Left to Right: Two sheikhs from Adwaniyah, Sheikh Malik, the Hawr Rajab district representative, and Lieutenant Colonel Solomon of the 6th Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division talk at the Hawr Rajab-Adwaniyah bridge opening. Photograph by Gordon Alanko.
“Like juggling kittens” is how one civil affairs soldier described the struggle to balance the needs of the population in the Arab Jabour region. With the area just recently cleared of al Qaeda in Iraq fighters, the work of reconstruction is just beginning. Most projects are small, and directed toward improving the area as well as providing much-needed jobs. Micro-grants of $2,500 or less are targeted to specific businesses judged likely to be successful; a civil affairs team will tour a village and identify local businesses that provide essential services, such as butcher shops, fruit stands, or ice makers. The owners of such businesses are told about the grants and given a chance to apply for money.
Larger sums are available for factories and other heavy industry, but the requirements are much more extensive. Army Civil Affairs and Provincial Reconstruction Teams from the State Department examine the business within the context of its region — does it employ local workers? Does it use local resources or import materials from other areas? Does it sell finished goods nearby or far away?
Economic development is important for two main reasons. First, a working man is not dependent on others for survival. He is harder to threaten or coerce, and less likely to become involved in crime. Second, the more trade that exists between disparate locations, the more economic incentive there is to maintain regional stability. Developing the economy is fundamental to counterinsurgency theory — first pay the insurgents more to work for you than for the bad guys, then kill or capture the ones who cannot be bought, and then take away the conditions that allow insurgency to thrive.
In practice, of course, the theory is difficult to follow. It is very easy to hand out money, and it becomes even easier once the populace discovers what is believed to be infinite “money tree.” Teams of soldiers follow up on micro-grant recipients to see how they have spent the allotted money. If the money has been spent wisely and allowed the business to prosper, the business owner may be encouraged to apply for another grant for further improvements.
Once again, the practice is more difficult than the theory. In Hawr Rajab, a small town in northern Arab Jabour, many of the business owners refer to the same name or nickname as their landlord. Members of Angry Troop, 6/8 Cavalry, who operate in the area, have never met the man, and remain unsure as to whether the landlord is a landholder recluse or an al Qaeda financier lying low and funneling rents back to al Qaeda.
Iraq also has unique and recent suffering that makes rebuilding difficult. The region is largely quiet these days, but the specter of the recent al Qaeda masters returning makes the population nervous. Bruce Bailey, a USAID contractor working on a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team, put it this way: “A businessman told me a story: Al Qaeda came to his house and killed his son in front of him to force him to swear allegiance to him. Six months later, they came back and beheaded his six-year-old granddaughter ‘just to make sure.’ This country has been through a trauma that makes rebuilding very difficult.”
One ongoing effect of the al Qaeda occupation is that villages formerly on at least decent terms with one another have become islands unto themselves. Some villages resent others for the number of people who fled to other areas of the country. Some villages in early stages of reconstruction and reconciliation dislike other villages that are simply further along in the process. Even inside the same village, American leaders work hard to avoid favoring one tribe too heavily over another in doling out reconstruction dollars and contracts to Sons of Iraq.
Partly because of natural greed, and partly because of this “island mentality,” each village wants one of everything. One clinic, one ice plant, and so on, ad infinitum. Part of the reconstruction challenge is to ensure rational and efficient use of funds. The Provincial Reconstruction Teams work diligently to link up supply sources with production facilities in other areas, and to streamline the funding process.
Hawr Rajab and nearby Adwaniyah are two villages that have not gotten along well recently for a number of reasons. Lieutenant Colonel Solomon, the commander of the 6/8 Cavalry commands the forces that patrol both villages. Solomon chose to prioritize the rebuilding of the canal bridge that links the two communities. Iraqi Army and US forces secured the road, and an Iraqi contractor picked up the job of rebuilding the bridge, hiring labor from both towns.
When the bridge was finished, both towns turned out for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration. The sheikhs of the two towns threw a party: all the sheikhs and various dignitaries sat along each side of a long tent, enjoying refreshments and talking to one another — many for the first time.
Sheikh Ali of Hawr Rajab and Said Hazzim, the Adwaniyah representative to the district council in Rasheed, spent the day together. Ali introduced Hazzim to Colonel Hussein, commander of the Iraqi Army unit in the area, and they went together to nearby Forward Operating Base Falcon to receive detainees from both villages released that day.
After the meeting, Solomon said: “Were objectives achieved today? Beyond my wildest dreams.” He went on to explain that Sheikh Ali and Said Hazzim barely spoke to each other before the bridge opening, and now they had a relationship that could be nurtured and developed. If al Qaeda in Iraq ever has the chance to surge back into the Arab Jabour region, relationships between disparate villages could be key to survival.
Those relationships work many ways. If a slaughterhouse employs 50 people in Hawr Rajab, buys chickens in Adwaniyah from coops that employ 40 more, and sells meat in the Baghdad or Rasheed markets, all areas involved will have economic reasons to help one another. That is what reconstruction in Iraq is all about; providing basic services, jobs, and opportunities for trade, and building relationships at the same time.