By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 10, 2007 - Getting Iraqis back to work is critical to Iraq's future as a stable, secure and prosperous country that can stand up to terrorists, the Defense Department official overseeing that effort said today. Iraq's long-term security depends on a strong economic climate, Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary for business transformation, told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call from Baghdad.
More than 50 percent of the Iraqi population is out of work or underemployed, a statistic Brinkley said would create unrest anywhere, including the United States.
"Terrorist networks are preying on this economic distress" in Iraq, he said.
He cited Army Gen. David H. Petraeus' counterinsurgency vision for Iraq: a security establishment augmented by rapid economic development and restoration of employment and hope to the Iraqi people.
This two-pronged approach "directly undermines the ability of terror networks and insurgents to gain sympathy from local populations and makes the job of securing this country vastly easier," Brinkley said.
As director of the Task Force to Improve Business and Stability Operations (in) Iraq, Brinkley is working to ensure the economic side of Petraeus' equation keeps pace with security progress.
The task force's No. 1 focus is Iraq's idle industrial base, which fell into distress after 2003 and left many Iraqis out of work. Congress recently appropriated $50 million to the task force to speed up the restart of Iraqi industries, Brinkley said.
The first step to getting Iraq's factories up and running is to ensure they have the sewer, water, electrical and telecommunications services they need to operate, he said. As the U.S. reconstruction effort brings Iraq's neglected infrastructure up to speed, it's laying the foundation for Iraq's economic development.
Brinkley cited several recent and upcoming milestones that mark progress:
- More factories are reopening. These factories, to be announced Aug. 13 during a joint news conference with Iraqi officials, will join six Iraqi factories already operational throughout Iraq.
- A reopened Iraqi clothing factory announced its first orders for export. Major U.S. retailers are involved, and some Iraq-made clothes are expected to be on U.S. shelves in time for Christmas.
- Executives from major U.S. corporations recently visited Iraq to explore ways to put Iraqis back to work manufacturing vehicles and heavy equipment for the Iraqi government and Iraq's private transportation infrastructure.
- More than 30 plant managers from around Iraq attended a session last week to discuss efforts to reemploy Iraq's skilled workforce and the need for financial transparency in spending funds allocated toward this effort.
Brinkley said this kind of success breeds more success and gives the Iraqi people hope for the future. He expressed confidence that these and other efforts under way will help Iraq regain its past reputation for having "one of the most skilled and educated workforces in the Middle East."