U.S. ‘microgrants’ win hearts, minds

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Capt. Allison, like Capt. Rusch, is not a civil-affairs officer. The former is an armor officer; the latter is an artilleryman. But like many other soldiers in Iraq today, they are performing functions that are not their military specialty as hearts-and-minds initiatives replace, at least temporarily, kinetic combat.

That daily, intense fighting ended in northeastern Baghdad in late May, and the relative peace is considered frail. Gunmen who retreated into northern Sadr City have mostly gone into hiding, fled or disbanded following a cease-fire agreement with the government.

But sporadic violence by Shi’ite holdouts and Sunni terrorists continues to threaten neighborhoods like Taribiyah.

“Captain: The clock’s on, 15 minutes and counting,” a soldier named Delacruz yelled out to Capt. Allison. “The people are taking off.”

Capt. Allison and men of Red Platoon were at a roundabout where al-Beidha’a and Sadr City meet.

Capt. Allison had stopped to chat with store owners on the al-Beidha’a side of a main thoroughfare and scout out vacant billboards for putting up signs picturing wanted terrorists and asking for information.

Street vendors and others at the roundabout moved away when Red Platoon rolled up - a sign to U.S. forces and local residents that a gunman was in the area.

“We figure it takes about 15 minutes for a sniper to be told we’re around and then for him to get to a point and set up for a shot,” a soldier said. “We don’t hang around any longer than we have to.”

Improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, along main roads remain a threat, although much less so than before.

But the hearts-and-minds beat still goes on.

“People who have a tangible stake in peace and stability, and recognize it, may be less inclined to tolerate or help those who would disrupt it,” Capt. Allison said.

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