As the U.S. military begins to reduce its presence in Iraq, officials are seeking to cement the gains they’ve made in recent years to help Iraqi women.

In particular, the military has focused on help for Iraqi businesswomen, targeting them with job training, micro-grants, and micro-loans.

One key, U.S. officials said, is to ensure U.S.-run programs aimed at women do not fall to the wayside as the U.S. withdraws.

A conference Saturday in Baghdad is meant to find ways that one such program — the Women’s Advocate Initiative — will continue under the Iraqi government and nongovernmental organizations.

Among the attendees expected at the conference are Brig. Gen. William Phillips, commander of Joint Contracting Command, Iraq and Afghanistan; the Iraqi minister of human rights; representatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development; and Iraqi businesswomen.

American officials have long faced cultural challenges in Iraq when trying to work with Iraqi businesswomen and female leaders. Units have held "women’s conferences" in several places in Iraq, even in religiously conservative areas.

In western Anbar province, for example, Marines in Rutbah have helped charter an organization seeking to empower widows by helping with micro-loans.

The problem of widows in Iraq has become widespread. During the height of the sectarian violence in 2006, nearly 100 women were widowed each day, according to the United Nations.

Now, an estimated one in 11 Iraqi women is a widow.

Widows are eligible for a $50 monthly government stipend — with an additional $12 per child — but only around 20 percent of the widows actually receive the aid.

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