3rd BCT PAO, 4th Inf. Div., MND-B
BAGHDAD – The meandering concrete monoliths of the Sadr City district of Baghdad got a welcomed facelift Aug. 2 thanks to local talent and beautification projects initiated by the Government of Iraq and Multi-National Division – Baghdad.
During the height of combat operations in Sadr City, barrier emplacement was an effective tactic to isolate Special Groups and criminals from their revenue extorted from the people and businesses of the Thawra 1 and Thawra 2 neighborhoods, home to some of the largest markets in Baghdad.
“We were emplacing barriers day and night, 24/7,” said Lt. Col. John Digiambattista, of Colorado Springs, Colo., operations officer for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, MND-B.
On this early August day, calm has been restored to the district. Markets are flourishing and essential services are returning where less than three months ago rubble and sewage filled the streets. Purposely constructed gaps in the wall now allow access in and out of the city for residents, where Iraqi Army stand guard at checkpoints to ensure the ill-minded can no longer hold the city hostage.
Though in parts of Sadr City the wall remains a gray scar, a testimony to recent battles, it’s a perception that is changing thanks to the bravery and talent of Iraqis like Abbas Ahmed Jaffer.
Jaffer recently completed vocational training that allowed him to build on his hobby of painting. He’s now part of a $100,000 contract to beautify the barriers that protect Sadr City with murals that represent Iraq’s culture and heritage.
“I’m doing something beautiful for my city,” Jaffer said painting a camel in a developing desert scene. “Instead of bad writings on the wall, when people drive by they will see pictures about Iraq.”
Progress on the wall and the effect it is having on the people even comes as a surprise to the MND-B Soldiers funding the project. Maj. Byron Sarchet, of Colorado Springs, Colo., information operations officer for 3rd BCT, 4th Inf. Div., said it doesn’t even look like Sadr City anymore. He said the activity, the shops and the traffic have created a sense of normalcy not seen there before and the wall, both as a physical barrier and now an object of pride, has had much to do with the success.
“Part of our campaign was to change the visible skyline,” Sarchet said. “Here is one good message to the next. You can stand at one (mural) and see the other.”
A portion of wall from the famed Mudafer Square, where Mohamed Sadiq al-Sadr’s image stares out over his name sake, to the intersection of the Jamilla al Quds road at Circle 55 is nearly complete with more than 50 murals.
Sarchet said work will continue to paint and beautify the rest of wall throughout the city but he’s not worried to see that some Iraqi entrepreneurs have got in ahead of the contractors.
“Let’s get some ice cream,” Sarchet calls to the driver spotting through the rear window of his vehicle a tempting add painted on the wall near the Jamilla Market. “That’s progress,” he said.
By Maj. Mike Humphreys