The GI's weapon of choice in Iraq: dollars
Congress recently allocated $180 million for aid to be disbursed directly by US soldiers.
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"[The fact] that the ability of commanders to directly support the economic side to counterinsurgency is important is clear," he says. "Regardless of where you go in Iraq, it's the military that keeps stressing dollars over bullets. On the ground, you come to understand very well that aid is as important as attack helicopters or Stryker armored vehicles."Skip to next paragraph
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In Samara, in central Iraq, Stryker brigade soldiers arrived Dec. 17 braced for a fight. But according to a report in the Seattle Times, they found many residents were friendly. The soldiers often paid cash - $20 to more than $40 - to residents whose homes were searched and found to be clean of weapons.
Rather than the slow-moving construction work of contractors like Bechtel, or the paperwork-heavy funding procedures of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the CERP program was made to get money into Iraqi pockets fast, and yield tangible improvements that Iraqi communities could identify.
Cordesman says the military aid has filled a crucial gap in Iraq left by what he considers to be the "overly ideological" approach of US civilian planners, who came to Iraq with grand visions of turning Iraq into a Western-style democracy, with an economy to match, overnight.
The CPA, run by Paul Bremer, has been too slow to get money flowing to feel-good projects that yield quick results, and has been too focused on sweeping plans to privatize the oil industry and restructure the economy that most Iraqis view with hostility and suspicion.
"It would certainly be useful to give the military more CERP funds,'' he says. "We are going to be judged by Iraqis on how much money gets to people who need it right now, not on efforts to reform all of its agriculture."
To the soldier on the ground, the most useful side to the money is that it has at least made some friends in communities who have profited from their projects, turning them into useful informants against insurgents operating in their areas and setting up what they hope will be a virtuous cycle of development leading to peace and then leading to more development.
"For those two months that the CERP funds went down, you could graph our spending against daily attacks against us and see the one going up as the other went down,'' says a major in central Iraq, who asked that his name not be used. "We were also getting less walk-in intelligence at that time."
"Having the money turned back on by Ambassador Bremer and confirmed in the supplemental was very helpful,'' says Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division administering northern Iraq. "What we're doing is trying to enable the Iraqis, and they've achieved a great deal. Money is our ammunition."
It's hard to travel almost anywhere in Iraq without seeing examples of CERP spending, but not everyone is grateful.
Ali Yassin, a 22-year old who guards a parking lot in New Baghdad, a poor area in the center of the city, says his street was made almost unlivable by a clogged sewage system that overflowed whenever it rained.
"Even in the summer it would flood, raw sewage would come right across to the houses."
A CERP project dug up the street in front of his home and fixed that problem, which he says he's grateful for. But now he complains that the soldiers failed to pay for the repaving of the road where they worked, contributing to traffic jams. "I'm happy the sewer was fixed, but that doesn't change my views about the Americans. There are still a lot of people unemployed, Baghdad is still a dangerous place."