Reopened Iraqi Factories Take Aim at Insurgency
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 28, 2007 With straight unemployment running at 20 percent nationwide, there is no wonder that Iraqi men would be sympathetic to violence and insurgency, the Defense Department’s point man for Iraqi reconstruction said today.
Paul Brinkley, deputy defense undersecretary for business transformation, acquisition, technology and logistics, said Iraqis want work, normalcy and security. He is working with the Iraqi government and coalition officials to open factories and create jobs for those unemployed and those underemployed, said during a Pentagon news conference today.
Getting Iraqis back to work, he said, takes groups of people out of the recruiting pool of al Qaeda in Iraq and insurgent factions.
“It is the belief of our command … that this economic factor goes hand in hand with security, and as security is established, it is critical to follow and to restore economic opportunity for the population,” Brinkley said.
The coalition already has helped open three factories in Iraq, and officials plan on opening dozens more in the future. Brinkley said that in 2003, 200 large factories were doing business in the country. For a variety of factors – including security, lack of raw materials, lack of transportation and lack of electricity -- these factories have closed.
DoD has undertaken a comprehensive effort to engage industrial operations -- some idle, some state-owned, some private sector -- across Iraq in an effort to identify potential sources of goods and services, he said. This survey will allow Iraqi factories to reopen and connect Iraq with the rest of the Middle Eastern and international marketplace.
Most of the 200 large factories were state-owned, he said. Restoring these factories will spur growth in other related areas, Brinkley said. Secondary benefits will accrue to the economy not just for large factories, but also for all of the surrounding private businesses.
“This will begin to create an uplift of economic opportunity for the Iraqi people,” he said. And that uplift will take potential recruits out of terrorist or insurgent recruiting pools, he added.
A reopened Iraqi clothing factory is making uniforms for the Iraqi army and Iraqi police. It also is producing goods for export, and Brinkley said some of these clothes should be on shelves in the United States in time for Christmas. “We have major American retail distributors who have engaged in that operation,” he said.
Another reopened factory near Baghdad manufactured buses. It now makes armored vehicles for the Iraqi security forces.
Another reopened factory in Ramadi illustrates a different problem. The factory made bathroom fixtures and ceramic tile, but has no one to sell the goods to.
“It's hard to put U.S. government contracts for ceramic tile; we don't buy a lot of ceramic tile in the DoD,” he said. “These Iraqi factories used to sell to other Iraqis. Sunnis sold to Shiia; Sunni sold to Kurds; Shiia sold to Kurds; businessmen did business with each other. It's the same anywhere in the world.”
As the factories were idle, the commercial ties died, he said. “In this particular case, Kurdish construction firms have committed to buy anything that particular factory can make,” he said. “Why? Because they need these goods, and they're having to import them from outside the country today, and they can get them cheaper.”
Brinkley said this type of success breeds other successes and that he expects to see acceleration in factory opening and concurrent employment.
The Iraqis obviously want this to happen also, Brinkley said. He said that even in areas of the greatest unrest, idled factories have been untouched. “We've gone to factories where literally gunfire has been going off in the surrounding neighborhood, and one would expect the factory to have been looted,” he said. “Yet you go in and there's computer equipment, robotics, brand new production machinery sitting idle.
“The doors are chained and dust has settled over everything and the workers aren't working, and yet the factory hasn't been damaged, which is indicative of the fact that there is a level of control and a level of awareness even in areas of great unrest that future economic prosperity is critical to the population.”