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French Version

Iraq 'needs more than machines'

kurdish official calls for training to make up for lost time

An Iraqi official on Monday urged the international community to help build skills in his war-scarred country at the opening of a four-day reconstruction trade fair in Jordan.

"I don't think it is right only to spend money on machines, cars and equipment," said Rizgar Jiawook deputy minister of higher education and scientific research in Iraqi Kurdistan.

"Machines are very simple to buy, but to build skills in people takes time. This is what we need," he said. "Technology is going very fast and we've been disconnected for many years."

He was speaking at the launch by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) of the so-called Iraq Information and Communications Technology Alliance, which kicked off a four-day "Rebuild Iraq" trade fair in the Jordanian capital.

According to the USAID mission director in Baghdad, Dawn Liberi, the alliance will help train Iraqis in information-technology skills to develop a budding business sector needed to help Iraq emerge from decades of conflict and international sanctions

"There is a very vibrant entrepreneurial spirit in Iraq. This is an informal sector that is moving to becoming a formal sector," Liberi told Agence France Presse. "We are trying to help establish the environment so that these businesses can flourish."

More than 1,000 participants from around 50 countries are taking part in the Rebuild Iraq event in Amman, which Jordanian officials and experts see as a gateway to business with their neighbors.

The fair is aimed at providing international firms a chance to do business with Iraq, once one of the most flourishing and developed Arab nations, which experts say needs more than $60 billion to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by war and years of neglect.

Experts have complained that corruption remains a major hurdle facing Iraq's reconstruction, along with the volatile state of security.

A Pentagon report published on May 1 said that the reconstruction of Iraq made "significant progress" in recent months despite "shortfalls and deficiencies," namely concerning the oil sector and the rebuilding of health facilities.

To work effectively during this "critical juncture ... requires the U.S. government to work closely with the Iraqi government and international donors to sustain the substantial U.S. investment in Iraq's infrastructure," it said.

Jiawook complained that more and better results could have been achieved with the billions of dollars spent to rebuild Iraq since the end of the U.S.-led war three years ago by revamping infrastructure and improving living conditions.

"For one thing we need 24/7 electricity. We cannot accomplish anything without electricity in Kurdistan or in any other place," he said, adding that water supply and sewage treatment were two other key priorities.

Baghdad residents get on average two hours of electricity a day, with those can afford it relying the rest of the time on power generators.

"There has been only about 30 percent progress in rebuilding Iraq. There are projects that we don't need now, like training mechanics on the maintenance of tractors," he said. "The mechanics are trained but can't put to use their training because the land is not ready and they are not returning to their villages. We need to rehabilitate them properly and encourage reverse migration."

According to Liberi, USAID has helped establish an investment promotion agency to attract direct foreign investment and revitalize a business registry, amid efforts to get Iraq into the World Trade Organization.

"Since the business registry became operational last September it has registered over 33,000 businesses. Eight thousand existed before but the majority are new," Liberi said. "There are many people in Iraq who conduct a normal life and conduct business."

Firms from around the world are at the fair, displaying everything from satellite communications to floor tiling, road-building materials, agriculture machinery, flour mills and escalators.

Beirut,05 09 2006
The Daily Star
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