Iraqis more secure, but few are finding jobs
Most jobs are in the military, police, and intelligence forces. But Iraqis say those jobs are only attained through family ties or bribes.
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Military provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) are working in concert with local governments on longer-term initiatives too. USAID and the PRTs have so far funded nearly $5.5 billion worth of projects in Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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For example, the US is now spending $8 million to set up four municipal outposts known as public works substations in mostly Sunni neighborhoods in western Baghdad. The US is buying all the equipment, hiring the Iraqi staff, and paying their salaries. Municipal officials must promise to match the numbers hired by the Americans and take over the whole program after one year. The idea is to bring services and create jobs in parts of the city where authorities may be hesitant to operate because of sectarian or security considerations.
"You get two for one.... People need to see an example of government working.... That's the thrust," says Lt. Col. Curt Carson, a US commander in western Baghdad.
The US military is also hiring more Iraqis on its bases and directing more procurement contracts to Iraqi companies as part of what it calls its "Iraq First" drive.
The military estimates that at least 75,000 Iraqis are employed now as a result of $3.3 billion worth of contracts with Iraqi-owned firms since January 2007.
An additional 3,700 Iraqis are employed at 60 US military bases across the country, 1,400 are involved in businesses on or near bases, and some $182 million has been directed to Iraqi vendors over the past nine months as part of the $4-billion-a-year military contract for food and services handled primarily by Halliburton's KBR unit, according to Maj. Gen. Tim McHale, director of personnel, logistics, and resources.
The Pentagon's task force to improve business and stability in Iraq is headed by Deputy Undersecretary Paul Brinkley, who says he wants to spur economic growth by assisting foreign investors with "the logistics of going back to Baghdad."
Mr. Brinkley told Al Jazeera television on July 16 that there are already commitments for $500 million worth of foreign investments in Iraq "with billions of dollars [more] in the pipeline...."
Clearer rules, more investors
US diplomats say they continue to push the Iraqi government for more transparent rules in the hope that this will encourage more private initiative and investment, and eventually more jobs. "The system of government is opaque. It's very hard to find out what you are supposed to do to be in compliance with the law.... That system lends itself to corrupt bureaucrats," says Lawrence Benedict, the US Embassy's coordinator for anticorruption.
But the elaborate system of patronage – a hallmark of the previous regime – seems to be reestablishing itself now, Mr. Benedict says. "Iraqis expect benefits from their leadership and for that they are expected to be loyal. To us that looks a lot like corruption. I am not sure it does so much to Iraqis."
One crude example of how this works was evident in Baghdad earlier this month when Iraq's prime minister visited a restaurant. While he ate, the prime minister's aides stopped passing motorists who were driving old vehicles. They were quizzed about their income and jobs. Those deemed poor enough, were given 500,000 dinars ($416). One recipient of the cash handout, Salah Ali, said the government gift represented three-quarters of what he usually made in a month from holding three jobs: government employee, air conditioning technician, and taxi driver.