By Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press Writer
Reopening state-owned factories that produced everything from cement to buses for Saddam Hussein's regime is among efforts President Bush hopes will boost the economy and help salvage a violent Iraq. His controversial strategy of increasing troops there to try to calm violence is meant to buy the Iraqi government time to move forward on political reconciliation and reconstruction.
In a program started nearly a year ago, the Defense Department has reopened a large textile factory in Najaf by buying uniforms for Iraqi soldiers and police that the U.S. has been training, and has reopened a vehicle factory south of Baghdad by buying armored vehicles, said Paul Brinkley. He is deputy undersecretary of defense in charge of Pentagon business modernization efforts and has been running the program.
Officials helped find other customers for the third restarted factory, in Ramadi, which makes ceramic products the U.S. has no need for in Iraq,
Brinkley has been taking representatives from private industry in the United States and elsewhere to Iraq to encourage them to do business in the country.
One company has agreed to buy 120 trucks from the transport company and another is expected to buy clothing from the textile factory that Brinkley said could be on American shelves by fall.
Brinkley declined to name the companies, saying they are still negotiating.
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, occupation officials of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority decided to do nothing with the government-owned factories, hoping they would quickly be taken over by the private sector. Privatization never happened as violence gripped the country and disrupted the economy.
Brinkley said the program will reopen private as well as government factories.
Military commanders have long seen employment as one of the keys to slowing the violence. The idea of restarting factories differs from some previous reconstruction efforts that have had limited success in that it's aimed at providing long-term employment for factory workers as opposed to short-term jobs that came with individual rebuilding projects.
Of some 200 large factories that made up Iraq's former industrial base, Brinkley said the Pentagon believes 140 are potentially viable and has identified ways to get 56 of them running again, hopefully this year.