Iraqi shop owners say ‘no thanks’ to grant
Stars and Stripes May 11, 2008
PATROL BASE ASSASSIN, Iraq — The sales pitch should be easy.
First Lt. Alex Lamolinara goes door-to-door along the strip of banged up storefronts, where there’s a soda shop with no refrigerator, a paint shop without much paint and a bunch of secondhand junk dealers.
The lieutenant, who is looking for potential candidates for a new microbusiness grant program, is dumbstruck. A couple of shops over, he gets the same response.
“Ask him why,” he tells the translator.
The translator points across the street.
“He’s scared,” the translator says, referring to the green house of worship known to soldiers as the “JAM Mosque,” after Muqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish al-Mahdi, or Mahdi Army.
In the village of Imam Ali, a small Shiite community roughly five miles from Baghdad’s southeast city limits, the store owners weren’t buying during a recent visit by members of the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment’s Troop A.
In other areas where the unit is pushing the microgrant effort, business owners have been leaping at the chance for $500 to spur commerce.
“I was a little skeptical about the program at first. But it works,” said Lamolinara. “It puts the money back into the community.”
But in Imam Ali’s south side, a little slice of Troop A’s territory, there doesn’t seem to be much interest in the money.
“This is my one problem area,” said Capt. Troy Thomas, whose Troop A commands the area that includes the small village.
There are quite a few Sadr loyalists in Imam Ali who don’t seem very interested in coalition assistance, he said.
The grant program is part of a larger initiative throughout the Mada’in Qada, where much of the focus is on building up infrastructure and business. The idea is that if jobs and services improve, hooking up with extremists becomes less enticing.
In the coming weeks, the unit that is replacing the 3-1 will be gathering applications and determining who qualifies for the money. Task Force 1-35 Armor will have roughly $10,000 to disperse in the Qarguhliyah area.
On a recent visit to Imam Ali, soldiers from Troop A and the Baumholder-based 1-35 made the rounds.
Unlike other parts of Qarguhliyah — a suburb southeast of Baghdad — where soldiers often receive rock-star greetings from the children, the youngsters in Imam Ali keep a distance. Instead of waving, they do their gawking with arms crossed.
While it’s not the friendliest of places, Troop A Sgt. George Sumrall noted that they weren’t throwing rocks either.
“I’d be more concerned if they turned around and walked away,” he said.
Nonetheless, in an impoverished area, turning down the chance at a $500 business grant struck the soldiers as odd.
Back at the Imam Ali soda shop, the owner says he doesn’t need the money.
“I don’t have a lot of customers,” he said.
“That’s because you don’t have a refrigerator,” said Capt. Jamal Williams, commander of 1-35’s Company A.