Microgrants in Iraq

Reading Matt Gallagher’s book “Kaboom” (review upcoming soon), I learned about the system of “microgrants” we have in place in Iraq. Business owners can apply for amounts, usually between $300 and $600 or so, to purchase something necessary for the business to help the local commerce and reconstruction. Soldiers on the ground are involved in administering and approving these grants. 

Here is a good extract from Matt Gallagher’s book Kaboom:

“Dude, I feel so dirty doing this!” Skerk yelled over to me, both of us jotting down names, type of business, and phone numbers supplied by the owners. “It’s one thing to witness a scam like this, but it’s a whole other thing to be the one peddling it!” As our troop’s artillery and contracts officer, Skerk oversaw the microgrant program in our AO.

For the first few months of our deployment, he used its funds the way we had been taught to—precisely targeting specific businesses that supported the efforts of Coalition forces, helping them out with a new freezer or upgraded furniture, and allowing news of the benefits of working with us to spread through the populace by word of mouth. Obviously, that was before the microgrant program came onto Higher’s radar. Now, Skerk served as the ringmaster in a circus of mass microgrant issuing.

We often joked about which specific American taxpayer had paid for the random object deemed “vital to commerce” by an Iraqi business owner, but it was only funny because the concept of money meant nothing to us anymore.

While I listened to a young Iraqi grocery shop owner explain to me why he wanted to use his pending microgrant on a foosball table, I thought about how unenforceable all of this was. We couldn’t take back a grant after the fact, whether the Iraqis bought something pragmatic or not. And while our guidance for dealing with this problem had us telling transgressors that we had added them to our terrorist watch list, we could only issue the threat so many times before it became an Arabic punch line.

I wonder how the soldiers feel, young men from 19 to 25, making very little money themselves, handing out bundles of hundred-dollar bills so Iraqi business owners can buy refrigerators, carts, lights, signs, carpet — or foosball tables.

I know how I feel knowing that some of my taxes do not go to schools in America or repaving our freeways, but they are going to Iraq to help their businesses.


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