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Capt. Greg Curry, Troop A commander of the 6th Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, gives an Iraqi convenience store owner a microgrant to help expand his business in Hawr Rajab on Thursday. A week ago, at least nine Iraqis died in a gunbattle with al-Qaida fighters in Hawr Rajab. But the incident hasn't stopped U.S. efforts to rebuild the town's economy.
Capt. Greg Curry, Troop A commander of the 6th Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, gives an Iraqi convenience store owner a microgrant to help expand his business in Hawr Rajab on Thursday. A week ago, at least nine Iraqis died in a gunbattle with al-Qaida fighters in Hawr Rajab. But the incident hasn't stopped U.S. efforts to rebuild the town's economy. (Erik Slavin / S&S)
Capt. Greg Curry, Troop A commander of the 6th Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, gives an Iraqi convenience store owner a microgrant to help expand his business in Hawr Rajab on Thursday. A week ago, at least nine Iraqis died in a gunbattle with al-Qaida fighters in Hawr Rajab. But the incident hasn't stopped U.S. efforts to rebuild the town's economy.
Capt. Greg Curry, Troop A commander of the 6th Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, gives an Iraqi convenience store owner a microgrant to help expand his business in Hawr Rajab on Thursday. A week ago, at least nine Iraqis died in a gunbattle with al-Qaida fighters in Hawr Rajab. But the incident hasn't stopped U.S. efforts to rebuild the town's economy. (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.
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. (Erik Slavin / S&S)
Young military-aged male Iraqis such as Ali are the ones who need jobs in Hawr Rajab, said military and State Department leaders in the town just south of Baghdad on Thursday. Securing towns and roads on Baghdad's outskirts in order to keep insurgents and weapons out of Baghdad is now a top military priority. Part of that strategy included giving out microgrants to jump-start stagnating businesses Thursday.
Young military-aged male Iraqis such as Ali are the ones who need jobs in Hawr Rajab, said military and State Department leaders in the town just south of Baghdad on Thursday. Securing towns and roads on Baghdad's outskirts in order to keep insurgents and weapons out of Baghdad is now a top military priority. Part of that strategy included giving out microgrants to jump-start stagnating businesses Thursday. (Erik Slavin / S&S)
John Smith, center, with the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division's embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team and Capt. Greg Curry, right, take information from an Iraqi business owner Thursday in Hawr Rajab.
John Smith, center, with the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division's embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team and Capt. Greg Curry, right, take information from an Iraqi business owner Thursday in Hawr Rajab. (Erik Slavin / S&S)
Like many in Hawr Rajab, Ali Hudaya says his electronics store was plundered by al-Qaida. On Thursday, U.S. soldiers and State Department workers gave out microgrants to local businesses and took applications from others.
Like many in Hawr Rajab, Ali Hudaya says his electronics store was plundered by al-Qaida. On Thursday, U.S. soldiers and State Department workers gave out microgrants to local businesses and took applications from others. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

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.

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