By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 13, 2007 - Santa might be visiting Iraq this year to fill his holiday wish, as Iraq's once-sagging textile industry gears up to export Iraqi-made clothing to the United States, a senior Iraqi government official said yesterday in Baghdad. Deputy Industry Minister Sami al-Araji joined Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business transformation, and Iraqi Minister of Finance Bayan Jabr at a joint news conference to discuss plans to get Iraq's factories up and running. Many of the 200-plus state-run factories have been idle more than four years, resulting in mass unemployment that officials say creates a breeding ground for insurgents.
Brinkley reported "significant progress" in getting Iraq's industrial base back on track. Initially, that's been accomplished through small, incremental capital investments in equipment, maintenance, raw materials and training to reopen factories. The goal, he said, is to restore "sustained employment to the most skilled workforce in the Middle East," he said.
Congress authorized $50 million through the fiscal 2007 budget supplemental to accelerate this effort, he said.
One of the biggest success stories to date is the Iraqi textile industry, which hopes to export Iraqi-made clothing to the U.S. market in time for the holidays, Araji reported. The Task Force to Improve Business and Stability Operations (in) Iraq, which Brinkley heads, is negotiating with several U.S. retailers to work out arrangements.
If all goes as hoped, a factory in Mosul could be exporting teenage clothing, a factory in Najaf, ready-made suits, and other factories, leather jackets.
Araji said they'll likely be sold in small numbers and in limited markets, possibly Washington, New York, Chicago and Detroit. "It is a modest beginning of capturing of a market," he said.
But Brinkley said these sales will send "a powerful symbolism" that goes beyond sales figures. In addition to educating the U.S. and global market about Iraq's capabilities, he said they'll help restore the Iraqi people's faith in their own products.
Before 2003, most Iraqis had little choice but to buy from Iraqi factories, because U.N. sanctions limited Iraq's ability to import goods, Brinkley said. When those sanctions were lifted in 2003, imports began flooding the Iraqi market, filling the void left as its own factories went dormant.
Brinkley called getting those factories humming once again and Iraqis back to work keys to Iraq's future as a stable, secure and prosperous country. He expressed hope that success being seen in Iraq's textile sector soon will be duplicated in scores of other industries throughout the country.
Revitalizing Iraq's economy is a critical part of Multinational Force Iraq Commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus' counterinsurgency plan in Iraq. "Economic development is at the core of his vision of how we bring political, economic and security restoration as a three-pronged effort here," Brinkley said.
This, in turn, will "create stability and enable the eventual drawdown of our presence here and the establishment of a stable government," he said.