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Iraqis Strive for Progress in Economic Sphere

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2003 – National leaders have said many times that to make progress in Iraq, three areas have to move ahead together: security, political and economic progress must go hand-in-hand.

DoD highlighted progress in the economic sphere Oct. 22 with a briefing here by members of the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The ministry is working to build a jobs program for the country.

Iraq was a command economy. The Baathist central government ran everything, and all decisions were made in Baghdad. Even the most efficient arm of the economy the oil industry was still rife with inefficiencies and thousands of "make-work" workers.

Fatin al-Saeda, director of employment; Evelyn Rasho, director of information and technology; and Sawsan al- Dawad, director of employment and vocational training discussed the challenges the country faces.

The three women are in the United States to learn how to set up a national employment and training program. The need is for Iraqis to learn new, marketable skills. The goal is to build training centers in all of the 27 "governates" of the country, said al-Dawad.

Three such centers already have been started, and the goal is to have all up and running by June. The centers will be places Iraqi citizens can go to receive employment services such as helping them find appropriate jobs and write resumes or register for training.

In the beginning the construction trades will be most important. Carpenters, masons, electricians, plumbers and the like are in high demand right now in Iraq, said al- Dawad.

Agriculture also will play an important part of the economy. Iraq, with the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, can be an incredibly fertile area. Moves are afoot now to reclaim the land in the south that Saddam Hussein drained to put an end to the Marsh Arab uprising in 1991. Saddam tamped the whole agricultural sector down. Now, training centers will help farmers learn the skills they need to survive and prosper.

Ultimately, tourism may also be a big moneymaker in Iraq. Iraq has treasures of all humanity, from the Ziggurat of Ur to the Baghdad Museum to Babylon to Nineveh. Shiia Muslims worldwide also will want to visit the shrines in Karbala and An Najaf.

Iraq needs the help. There are no firm figures on unemployment in Iraq, but coalition authorities estimate it's around 50 percent.

The economy is opening up, and foreign firms will be allowed in to Iraq to compete for business, but they need trained workers. "So many changes have happened in our country," al-Dawad said. "So I think there is a great chance of finding jobs for Iraqi people."

The women will examine job centers in the United States for the next two weeks.

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