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Iraqi Official: Country's Economy Improving, But Unemployment Is High


A U.S. program to help revive Iraq's devastated industry is making some progress, but, as VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington, economic activity remains subdued and unemployment is high.

Iraq's Minister of Industry and Minerals, Fawzi Hariri, told reporters most of the $760 million of U.S. money injected into the Iraqi economy will go toward training, importing raw materials and rebuilding the country's industrial base.

After the start of the U.S.-led war in 2003, Iraq's industry came to a standstill. Much of the infrastructure was affected by the military campaign, other parts were severely damaged by looting and unrest.

Hariri said of the 240 factories operating in Iraq before the war, about 170 have reopened, but are running at only about 10 to 30 percent of production capacity. He said the rate of unemployment has dropped by seven to 10 percent from last year, but remains high.

"At the moment the unemployment is estimated at around 40 percent," Harir said.

Paul Brinkley, the deputy undersecretary of defense in charge of business transformation in Iraq, says the high level of joblessness is a major contributor to instability.

"There is no human population in the world that can withstand that level of economic distress and not experience attendant violence, unrest, sympathy with violent actors," Brinkley said. "This is what our commanders have encountered, this is why this effort is so important to the Department of Defense."

The Defense Department launched a program in June 2006 to restart Iraqi factories and get Iraqis back to work. The effort now also involves the Iraqi government and the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said the program has been a success.

"Since this program began last year, measurable progress has been made. About five thousand Iraqis are back to work in sustainable jobs ... other factories are about to open, with more in the works," England said.

England said the goal is to move Iraq from the front page of newspapers to the business pages.

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