By Cpl. Michael Molinaro
2nd Brigade Combat Team PAO, 4th Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, IRAQ, October 16, 2006 - Multi-National Division
Baghdad soldiers delivered an assortment of equipment and goods to the Muehla Agricultural Union on October 9.
Refurbished tractors, seed spreaders and water pumps were among the items donated to the union as it begins to move from underneath the guidance of the soldiers from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, and starts earning profits on its own.
"Muehla is the template for success for rural areas of Iraq," said Capt. Colin Brooks, commander, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment.
Muehla is a cradle for farming in the Babil province. Green pastures donimate the area, in Muehla alone, there are 650 farmers who represent more than 10,000 people. The area was known as a safe haven for terrorists in the past, and many rocket and mortar attacks against MND-B forces were carried out from inside the town, Brooks said.
Upon arriving in Iraq last December, Brooks and his soldiers immediately sat down with sheiks from the area to gauge their interests. While no one disputed the fact there were bad people in the area, and Company B would search for and detain individuals, Brooks wanted to open up dialogue with the influential leaders from the area and begin a positive relationship.
He said he quickly discovered farming was the key to stability in the area. With the Iraqis best interests in mind, he took on a major project by standing up an agricultural union that, in time, would provide all of the equipment and goods needed for the farmers of the area. By rounding up terrorists at night and meeting with sheiks and residents during the day, the transformation of Muehla from a terrorist safe haven to an example for the rest of rural Iraq was in full swing.
Brooks said his soldiers talked to more than 200 farmers to see what they felt was needed to work proficiently. Elections were held in May as the farmers voted for a director and a board of seven members who would oversee the union and make important decisions regarding the needs of the people. Soldiers delivered more than 400 tons of fertilizer, seeds and other equipment to get the union on its feet and start earning profits.
"Farming is their lives," Brooks remarked. "We made it important to us, as well. We have an incredible rapport with the people now, and the results in the area are astounding. Those driving around the rural roads of Muehla today will see corn fields so high that farmers from Iowa would be proud," Brooks said. The area is peaceful. There are no attacks resonationg from the region, and Brooks and his soldiers have unprecedented freedom of movement in the area.
The equipment the soldiers delivered will be rented to farmers belonging to the union, Brooks said. The equipment will enable the farmers to do the job quicker and produce more crops. The union uses the money from the rentals to buy fertilizer and seed at subsidized prices, which enables the union to sell the items back to its members at a lower cost. It is a cycle that benefits everyone involved.
The board members have bold plans for the future that once seemed like a dream, said Omar Hashem, director of the union, such as a farmer's education program, veterinarian services, and a young farmer's program.
With Brooks and his men scheduled to redeploy by the end of the year, the time has come for the union to walk by itself without any assistance from Coalition forces.
"We are indebted to Capt. Brooks and his soldiers forever," Hashem said. "They had a plan that no one else had and made it work. They have given us the head start that we needed, and now it is up to us to make it successful."
Very soon, farmers will harvest their corn, sell it to local markets and reap the benefits of their hard work and the new cooperation amongst the members, Hashem said. Wheat season is right around the corner, and excitement is everywhere as the villagers of Muehla can now see a bright future with an endless rotation of crops from season to season.
"We had problems before in the area, but Capt. Brooks and his men made an effort to get everyone to the table and talk," Hashem said. "He and his guys solved the problem peacefully."
The success in Muehla has allowed soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment to work with other areas such as Jiff Jaffa and Diyarah; small farming communities left to fend for themselves previously by the government, Brooks said. Both towns have recently started their own agricultural unions.
Because of the success in Muehla, Brooks has shown it as an example to other Coalition Force units as a way to bring better security through projects that people are passionate about.
Leaders and sheiks are now coming to the table and discussing their problems and ways to counter them instead of resorting to violence.
"I can only hope other communites in Iraq get to experience what we are getting to experience," said Hassam Ali, a local farmer from Muehla. "Our fields have crops; our bins have seeds; and most importantly, our families have peace in their homes. That is all I ask for."
From Defend America.