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US Chief in Iraq Says Unemployment is Biggest Challenge - 2003-06-10

Noting his first month in Iraq as the U.S. administrator, Paul Bremer said Tuesday that finding jobs for Iraqis consumes the greatest amount of his time. Mr. Bremer also warned Iran to quit meddling in Iraqi internal affairs.

Mr. Bremer said there is a staggering unemployment rate in Iraq that may exceed 50 percent and that finding jobs has become his number one task.

"We're facing an unemployment problem that is certainly without precedent in my life, and that, of course, creates real hardship for the Iraqi men and women out there," said the American official. "And so the thing that takes most of my attention is trying to find ways to get the economy turned over again so we can create jobs."

In that vein, Mr. Bremer announced the establishment of the Business Support and Information Center in Baghdad. The center will help facilitate foreign investment and be a clearinghouse of information for local businesses.

He also announced a $100 million construction fund that will be used to help rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, including the reconstruction of ministries and the completion of public projects already begun before war was waged to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

On another note, Mr. Bremer warned Iran to stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq.

"It is clear, it is incontrovertible that elements in the Iranian government are interfering in Iraqi affairs, as the secretary of defense pointed out several days ago," said Mr. Bremer. "We consider this to be unhelpful. We consider this to be contrary to coalition interests, and, more importantly, we consider this to be contrary to the interests of the Iraqi people, and we think it should stop."

Mr. Bremer said Iran is meddling in Iraqi affairs in hopes that Iraq will form an Islamic government similar to the one in Tehran.

Mr. Bremer said other pressing issues in Iraq include reforming Iraq's educational and judicial systems as well as conducting a census so that when free elections are held their validity can be assured.