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Luring Foreign Businesses to Sadr City?
The IACCI urges new rebuilding in a decidedly low-key Sadr City expo
By DANIEL W. SMITH 10/27/2008 06:00 AM ET
Photos: Daniel W. Smith

SADR CITY - They had a tent, glossy pamphlets, armored military vehicles guarding the entrance. All that was missing were the clients.

The Iraq American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which bills itself as is "a professional, full service organization with over 10,500 Iraqi and international members", provides loans and other support for companies willing to do business in Iraq.

Though Baghdad’s sprawling slum of Sadr City(and very obvious turf of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army) is enjoying relative peace since May, the time for an expo here with actual customers has apparently not arrived. So, they are holding it without them.

“Today is the first step,” said IACCI Vice President, Majed Michel, who was on hand Saturday and Sunday, speaking to what press showed up. He also handed out literature enticing foreign businesses to come to Iraq to the local district council chairman and others who gathered. “Day by day, the area is getting safer. For the last three or four months, it has been good, so we come here to show them it is all right.” Of coursed, the site was just on the edge of Sadr City, enclosed by concrete blast walls, and multiple Iraqi security forces who had shut down some of the surrounding roads. As Michel said, “a first step.”

There has been a focus in the government of Iraq to give preference to Iraqi companies over foreign ones when awarding reconstruction projects, to promote self-sufficiency of the economy. When asked about this, Michel replied, “Small companies can take care of small projects, but there are larger projects that we need foreign companies for, companies that have more resources.” He gave large apartment building complexes as an example.

Michel said that he expected the “real rebuilding” to begin in 2009. “We lost six years. Iraq has much money, you can’t say we don’t,” he said. “Iraq has the oil, so it has the money. We have to force the Iraqi ministries to spend it, and bring in companies that can do the job.”

An elderly man outside didn't have much faith that this photo-op would make any more difference than the other ones that have breezed through the neighborhood.
He said "If they build the new houses they talk about, only then we will be happy." There are some signs of construction in Sadr City, but not many - perhaps this "first step" will lead to something bigger.

The last time I was in Sadr City was three months ago. At the time, the Iraqi government made loud announcements that it had $100 million set aside for the reconstruction of Sadr City, ready to spend immediately. Residents are still waiting for something else to happen.

As a tired, disenchanted Iraqi government spokesman told me off-the-record last week, “The people of Sadr City have heard many times that their government will help them. They don’t believe us at all anymore.”

Majed Michel, Vice President of the IACCI
Majed Michel, Vice President of the IACCI

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