By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
July 16, 2008 - Two U.S.-military sponsored economic reconstruction programs are helping to put thousands of Iraqi citizens into productive jobs while boosting the country's business activity, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said today. In March 2007, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, directed his officers to find ways to provide jobs and increased opportunities for economic expansion, entrepreneurship and skills training for the people of Iraq, recalled Army Maj. Gen. Timothy McHale, director of personnel, logistics and resources for Multinational Force Iraq.
The successful Iraqi First LOGCAP and Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone programs are direct results of Petraeus' directive, McHale said.
"Both of these programs are focused on contributing to Iraq's economic progress and security," McHale pointed out.
The Iraqi First LOGCAP program provides a conduit for Iraqi businesses to sell their products and services to coalition customers, McHale explained.
"We are striving to put Iraqis first in purchase decisions," McHale noted. LOGCAP, he said, is the name of the military logistics contracting and purchasing system.
LOGCAP is the coalition's largest service contract in Iraq, and is a prime example and one of the programs in which Iraqi First is being applied, the two-star general said.
"We are working to direct more and more jobs supporting this contract to Iraqis," McHale continued. "In addition, we are directing more purchases of products to Iraqi suppliers. The goal is to have Iraqi workers and Iraqi suppliers to be a significant part of our military logistics support."
Today, about 3,700 Iraqi citizens are holding jobs as part of the Iraqi First-LOGCAP program, McHale said. At some installations, he noted, Iraqi citizens make up more than 50 percent of the work force.
"We are working every day to open up more jobs on more bases to Iraqi citizens, and we expect to add thousands of jobs over the next several months," McHale said, noting Iraqis are working in skilled positions such as construction, carpentry, masonry, welding, plumbing, electrical work, well-drilling as well as many types of general-labor positions.
"Iraqis also have a growing presence in both professional and administrative positions," McHale said. A new initiative, he noted, is exploring ways to hire Iraqis through Iraqi-government-sponsored vocational-technical schools.
The Iraqi First-LOGCAP program is also about buying Iraqi products for use on coalition bases, McHale said, noting the U.S. military in Iraq has bought more than $182 million worth of Iraqi products and services over the past year.
"While these products were available elsewhere, we chose to buy Iraqi goods and services," McHale said. Buying Iraqi-made products creates new jobs for the people of Iraq, he observed. For example, he said, a recent business transaction with an Iraqi plastics factory resulted in the reopening of three plastic-bag production lines.
LOGCAP-affiliated purchases have involved more than 200 Iraqi vendors providing thousands of items and products, McHale said. Iraqi-supplied goods and services, include construction materials, metals, tools, heating and cooling equipment, as well as maintenance, laundry and food service and supply services.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone program, called IBIZ, continues to help Iraqi entrepreneurs to do business with the U.S. military, McHale said.
"IBIZ is a program that provides secure locations on or next to coalition-force bases for privately owned, small and medium sized Iraqi businesses employing Iraqi workers," McHale explained. The program, he said, injects money into the Iraqi economy while boosting social stability by providing jobs to Iraqis so that they can support their families.
IBIZ-affiliated ventures employ more than 1,400 Iraqis with annual salaries totaling more than $10 million, McHale reported. Successful businesses that participate in the IBIZ program include building trades, vehicle-repair, retail shops, cement and asphalt, metal cutting, trucking and generator repair.
"We also create a work force and business foundation for transitioning support to the Iraqi security forces or to the society of Iraq," McHale said.
The IBIZ program is growing, McHale said, noting it is now being implemented on 11 coalition bases, with plans to expand it to 14 bases this summer.