News: Civil-Military Conference unites provinces in capacity building efforts
Story by Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Multi-National Division-Center Public Affairs Office
BAGHDAD – Coalition, provincial and Iraqi leaders from Multi-National Division – Center met with U.S. Embassy and Department of Defense representatives for the first ever Civil-Military Coordination Conference Aug. 11-13, 2008, to promote economic growth in Iraq.
"It is ... increasingly important that we be fully coordinated with the Iraqis, because part of this is transitioning ... Iraq is moving forward, making its own decisions, making its own choices," said U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.
The conference helped provincial reconstruction teams and leaders from Mada'in Qada, Mahmoudiyah, Babil, Wasit, Qadisiyah, Karbala and Najaf synchronize capacity-building goals in the provinces south of Baghdad.
The discussions focused on agricultural improvement, private investment and housing construction.
"It's not terribly important that we all go to the right objective, it's important we go to the same objective, and if we find out when we arrive, that's not where we want to be, at least we can all move to some other place," said Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, MND-C commanding general.
The conference was the first of its magnitude to deal with civil-military matters since the beginning of the war in Iraq. In all, about 160 people participated in the three-day conference. Leaders intended to highlight the best practices, ideas and systems already in place and find ways to apply them across the provinces. Ultimately, the leaders' cooperative efforts could return Iraq's economy to a stable and viable financial system.
Speakers also emphasized the importance of an Iraqi commitment to future projects. The government of Iraq and other national organizations are growing more capable and responsible in sustaining programs initiated by coalition forces. As an example, a school built by coalition funding is then equipped, employed and managed completely through Iraqi efforts.
The issues at hand were very complex, which made a face-to-face meeting of provincial leaders critical. The conference provided a personal setting for these discussions; the conference and focus on economic growth are a product of the improved state of security in Iraq.
"Iraq is transitioning thanks to the extraordinary security gains that our forces and Iraqi forces have achieved on the ground," Crocker said. "Security gains have created a different climate, so there is the opportunity now for us to get after it."
Provincial leaders recognized agriculture as the key to "get after" in order to revitalize Iraq's economy. In areas like Wasit, the system of agriculture is struggling due to drought, and a lack of electricity makes it difficult to pump water for irrigation.
The leaders are confident Iraq can return to the agricultural giant it was through the 1950s.
Iraq's dynamic agricultural setting offers opportunities in fish farming, poultry, feed industries, date crops and more. In order to maximize these avenues, the leaders focused on fertilizer distribution, processing plants and vocational education for agriculture, agribusiness and youth development.
"Iraq presents a rare opportunity in the region," said Paul A. Brinkle, deputy under secretary of defense for business transformation. "Not to have an oil-driven economy or massive amounts of oil revenue that will pile up in a central government ... [and create a] sort of welfare-driven state, which is extremely common in the region. Iraq has the opportunity to emerge as the most diversified legitimate market-driven economy in the region."
Iraq will need help from international investments piped into the private sector in order to make that possible. The ministry of industry received more than 50 proposals for investment and large-scale industrial operations through July 31.
This year alone, $500 million in foreign direct investments have been executed through partnerships established in Baghdad. That number is expected to surpass one billion dollars by the end of the year. According to Brinkle, administrators have received proposals from regional to international investment groups and corporations totaling $75 billion.
"There is no mystery, with the resource space - mineral, agricultural and hydro-carbon resource space - combined with the skilled workforce that exists here, this country will be one of the leading countries in the region and internationally over the next decades," Brinkley said.
"All it needed was stability and stabilization," he added.
To support this growth, provincial investment commissions plan to train Iraqis on targeted investment strategies. The training will last 17 days across the span of five months, from September to January.
"We believe that Iraq should be built by investment because if Iraq was meant to be built without investment, it would have been done by now," said Dr. Ahmed Ridha, chairman of the Iraqi National Investment Commission.
Overseas private investment corporations are also discussing the need for two million new housing units across 256 cities in Iraq with the GoI. In addition, one million houses are in need of restoration from war damage and neglect.
Though challenges continue, this open exchange enabled leaders from seven regions to unite efforts for the future of their country.
"We hope that you will continue to support our efforts," Ridha said to the provincial and coalition leaders present at the conference. "We will never forget your cooperation with us to rebuild our country. I ensure that all future generations will [remember] your mark here."