Task Force Improving Iraqi Businesses, Economy
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2007 A U.S. task force focused on revitalizing Iraqi businesses is in Iraq again this month, this time bringing several dozen American and international business executives to meet with Iraqi officials and connect with the business community.
The group, from the Defense Department’s Office of Business Transformation, includes agricultural and agribusiness representatives from major American universities and international businesses, who will be working to ensure that industry revitalization efforts are synchronized with the agriculture sector, Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business transformation, told reporters in Baghdad today. Representatives from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development are also on the team, which will travel around Iraq this week.
The group’s one objective “is to restore economic opportunity and create a sense of potential economic growth for the Iraqi people,” Brinkley said.
Each province in Iraq has different considerations when reopening factories and businesses, Brinkley said. For example, industries in Anbar province are mineral-intensive, and the factories require lots of steady electrical power, so the U.S. is working with the Iraqi government to speed reconstruction, he said. Baghdad has a wide range of industries, but economic revitalization must be coordinated with the ongoing Baghdad security plan.
“Every factory has a unique set of constraints, a unique set of issues it confronts,” Brinkley said. “Some are up and running, some are idle, and by going case by case, site by site, doing the hard work to identify those constraints and work to resolve them -- that's the focus of the team, and that's the effort we have under way.”
About 350,000 Iraqis used to work in state-owned factories and now draw a stipend that is between 30 and 40 percent of their original pay, Brinkley said. These state-owned factories were important to the entire Iraqi economic system, he said, because they had a reciprocal relationship with the agricultural and private sectors. Restoring these factories and putting them on a path toward privatization will stimulate the smaller private-sector businesses and benefit the overall economy, he said.
The restoration of grid-based, broad, widely available electrical power is a key element of long-term economic development in Iraq, Brinkley said. Many factories are running on locally generated electricity, paying for their own fuel. These factories can’t make profits, however, until the broader electrical grid is restored, he said.
The government of Iraq is providing all the funds to get the factories up and running, Brinkley said. The U.S. task force meets regularly with Iraqi officials to identify factories that need to be restored and supports the Iraqi government’s investment decisions, he said.
In every province and region of Iraq, the people want to see economic progress, Brinkley said. The task force’s concern is to bring progress quickly to the people who have already waited years for it, he said.
“There's a strong sense that the sooner we are able to restore economic opportunity, the better, and so we have a huge sense of urgency,” he said.
The DoD task force has been visiting Iraq since May 2006 to evaluate the situations at the country’s roughly 200 former state-owned factories and determine what is needed to restart operations.