Hawr Rajab rebounds from attack
HAWR RAJAB, Iraq — For months before Nov. 22, Hawr Rajab served as a symbol of the military’s surge strategy.
Hundreds of “concerned citizens” patrolled streets formerly ruled by insurgents in this town bordering south Baghdad. More than 70 percent of the population had moved back into abandoned houses, 3rd Infantry Division officials said.
Commerce showed signs of life, local residents say. Then an al-Qaida attack shattered the growing calm.
“Before last week, business was booming. But not now,” said shopkeeper Salim Jatoo Sawhid.
Anywhere from 15 to 50 insurgents entered the town, depending on various reports. They killed concerned citizens guarding perimeter checkpoints. Then they entered the town center, stole an Iraqi army Humvee and killed two soldiers.
They moved on to the concerned citizens headquarters and killed at least seven before the Iraqi army and U.S. Army air assets repelled the attacks.
But while residents say business this past week faltered, the shuttered storefronts began opening like dominoes Thursday as U.S. forces rolled through the town.
Envelopes stuffed with money and promises of more can have that effect. Residents lined up one by one to tell stories of al-Qaida treachery in the U.S. Army’s presence.
“Insurgents stole all of our merchandise,” said Hadeya Yahyeh, a local woman. “Without the shop, I can’t live.”
Another man said he feels safe only when U.S. soldiers are nearby.
A few U.S. soldiers now live at a nearby Iraq checkpoint. But soon, the 6th Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment will bolster security with at the new Patrol Base Stone.
“I’ll be moving into Hawr Rajab to live with you,” troop commander Capt. Greg Curry told shopkeepers Thursday.
Cities like Hawr Rajab are critical to the 3rd Infantry’s goal of keeping insurgents and weapons from the neighboring capital, officials say.
Soldiers are getting to know residents while embedded State Department workers identify business owners eligible for microgrants between $1,000 and $3,000.
They look for Iraqis at farms and businesses with a plan to use the money, especially if they can hire more people. The logic holds that Iraqis with jobs are less likely to take al-Qaida money to plant bombs, officials said.
A man selling chick pea soup became a case study. He really wanted to be a building painter, said John Smith, chief of the area’s embedded provincial reconstruction team.
“He actually had ambition and a business plan in his head — and he’s al-Qaida recruiting age,” Smith said.
The reconstruction team is only three weeks old, but its members will track progress of each business they support and use the data to extend the program, Smith said.
Photos by Erik Slavin / S&S
Soldiers from the 2nd and 4th Brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division guard Hawr Rajab’s main street on Thursday while microgrants are awarded to local businesses.