AL ZAHRAH, Iraq, Jan. 17, 2007 - It is a small neighborhood about 12 blocks long and five blocks wide, just a few miles away from Balad. The main street is roughly paved; the rest are just dirt tracks filled with trash and mud, teeming with kids. All in all, there is nothing remarkable about Al Zahrah.

It has, however, managed to capture the attention of the U.S. forces at Forward Operating Base Paliwoda. "The people in this neighborhood have been good to us here. We'd like to do something in return for them," said 1st Lt. Anthony Fazio, the projects purchasing officer for Headquarters/Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment.

The unit is proposing a $4 million renovation project that includes installing an underground sewage system with connections to each house in the area, drain culverts, sidewalks and paved roads.

The long term benefits of this project would be numerous. The construction project would provide about 150 people employment for at least six months, as well as create other jobs, such as garbage disposal, in the effort to maintain the neighborhood, Fazio said.

Neighborhood improvements might also catch the attention of the provincial government, potentially resulting in additional funding for other projects. The result would be an all-around economic improvement for the town, said Fazio.

The greatest benefit, however, would be the improved health of the inhabitants.

"The old sewage system backs up here, especially when it rains, causing dirty water and debris to rise to the surface," said Fazio. "The kids go out and play in this stuff, and people are getting sick."

The new sewage system and drain culverts will remove the dirty water and debris from the streets, greatly improving the living standard for the Al Zahrah residents.

"We hope that people will see the improvements made in this neighborhood, how it looks and how it works, and want the same for their neighborhoods. Then they would be willing to work with U.S. forces to stabilize the violence in their area so we can go in there and do it," said Staff Sgt. Sean Cummins, the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion team leader.

The civil affairs team works as the eyes and ears for Fazio to provide information on what projects are most wanted and needed by the people, said Cummins.

The Al Zahrah renovation is actually a continuation of a project begun by a previous unit at Forward Operating Base Paliwoda, but was not completed before they were redeployed back to the United States. Fazio and his team did not hesitate to take up the challenge of its completion when they arrived to the area.

Amir ab Dalhide Morhan, the mayor of Balad, is working with Fazio on the project. "Even though there is a change in the commands (at Forward Operating Base Paliwoda), the policy always remains the same - to work with the people of Balad," said the mayor.

Fazio patrols with the 404th Civil Affairs team to gain a better understanding of what improvements have been completed and to determine what developments still need to occur. He talked with the locals about the problems they are having, and explained how the proposed project will help to alleviate those issues.

With the mayor's cooperation, Fazio has established several mandates to ensure the project will move forward with minimal disruptions. He intends to hire a local contractor who actually lives in Al Zahrah because the contractor will have a vested interest in making sure the project gets done, and gets done the right way.

Included in the proposal is a stipulation that locals must clean up garbage in the area before the project can get started, and that they must keep it clean once it is completed.

"I'm trying to change the mindset of the people. If they have to earn something, then maybe they will take pride in it and maintain it," Fazio said.

The approval process for the Al Zahrah renovation project could take up to two months. Once approved, the project is scheduled to be finished within six months of its start date.