War on Terrorism

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Soldiers Assist in Iraqi Business Initiatives

By Army Sgt. Mark Miranda
Special to American Forces Press Service

June 15, 2009 - Just a short bus trip from work and in a well-secured area here, soldiers of 1st Armored Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team can be seen on any given day shopping in the Iraqi-based industrial zone. Industrial zone locations are designated secure areas on coalition bases where a commercial business with a land-use agreement through the coalition can establish operations. The Highlander Brigade actively supports the program here.

"We are here to stimulate the local economy, operating mainly around Nasiriyah, by providing opportunities ... with contracts and businesses," said Army 2nd Lt. Sophia Volz, Iraqi-based industrial zone officer in charge for the garrison here. "We bring them in from everywhere, but ideally, the people we work with are in the Dhi Qar province."

"Contractors Row" here is where many of the Iraqi general contractors such as cleaners, recyclers and construction companies can be found.

The goal is to transfer U.S. contractor jobs to the Iraqis, said Army Sgt. James Witt, garrison Iraqi-based industrial zone noncommissioned officer in charge.

Volz said a responsible drawdown is necessary.

"Ninety-nine percent of contracts here were [with] KBR over the last six years," he said. "We have to minimize shock with a smooth transfer of services. Currently, KBR and the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program have the latrines, maintenance, and vehicle maintenance. We'll slowly transfer those jobs to Iraqis by having a sustainable balance between KBR reduction and Iraqi buildup of sustainable business."

Contingency Operating Base Adder is expected to remain functional as a way station for units moving out of Iraq in accordance with the U.S.–Iraq security agreement.

"Adder will be around long after we're gone," Volz said. "The plan is to eventually turn it back over to the Iraqi army. It's one of the things we talk to Iraqis about. We want to have long term goals for Iraq.

The program provides a growth opportunity for existing civilian business, Witt said.

"Lots of these local businesses are run by sons and daughters," he explained. "They're running a branch off of their parents' main business location. They're not losing much, because as far as overhead costs, they are minimal, as the vendors don't pay rent."

Iraqi businesses are given a land lot and sign a memorandum stating they are responsible for upkeep of their space. The industrial zone program provides land, water and fuel for their generators.

"They bring their own trailers," Witt said. "They pay for fencing and other such renovations. They're making money; thousands of dollars a month. They have their finger on the pulse of what soldiers want and need; they're responsive to supply and demand."

Ahmed Theif, a local businessman who runs one of the stores in the market for his uncle, said Sunday is his busiest day. "I get lots of orders for customized items like clothes or painted canvas portraits from photos," he said.

When they have time, Army Sgt. Jason Savary and his wife, Army Spc. Amneris Savary, take the shuttle bus to the market to buy DVDs or to visit their Iraqi friend Saheb Abaes, who runs a carpet shop.

"Like most everyone else on Adder, we found this place by word-of-mouth," Jason Savary said. "It's a good place to come to save money on entertainment."

Banking is another sector I-BIZ personnel are pursuing.

Volz said an effort is under way to bring Warka Bank from Iraq's Samarra province into the equation, which he described as "a huge deal."

"The banking concept is different here in Iraq in that the vast majority of banks don't have the capability for electronic funds transfer," he explained. "We're trying to get more of the vendors set up with Eagle Cash capability. There's an initiative to get cash off the battlefield, because the dinars vs. dollars exchange is difficult for the merchants."

Plans also are in the works to bring a vocational/technical school to Camp Mittica, adjacent to Contingency Operating Base Adder. Two such schools are in Nasiriyah.

"If you're going to bring people in to do the job, they need training on these essential skills," Volz said. "We want to use what [skill sets] they have and help them make it better."

(Army Sgt. Mark Miranda serves with the 1st Armored Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.)

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