Iraq must seek foreign, domestic investment to rebuild economy

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Iraq's economic recovery will depend on the government's ability to persuade businesses at home and abroad to invest in the country, the nation's top U.S. administrator said Monday.

L. Paul Bremer spoke after the first meeting of the Economic Consultative Council, which will advise the occupation authorities on rebuilding Iraq's economy. It includes private businessmen, government officials and some politicians.

Bremer said that the 30-member economic council discussed ways to attract foreign investment to Iraq. Proposals included changing economic laws and tax rates, and privatizing state-owned businesses.

"The central point on which everybody agreed was the following: If the Iraqi economy is to grow in the future it will be on the back of a vibrant private sector and that will mean attracting foreign investment and mobilizing domestic capital," Bremer said.

The energy sector is likely to be the main engine for Iraq's economy for years to come, and oil exports are expected to resume at the middle of this month. Iraq exported as much as 2.1 million barrels of crude a day before the U.S. and British invasion halted all shipments.

Iraq's economy was devastated by 13 years of mismanagement and U.N. sanctions, and all but collapsed during the latest conflict and its aftermath. Economists say moving the economy toward a free-market system will be difficult and time-consuming.

Unemployment is now rampant and many government employees are unable to return to their jobs.

"Creating jobs now is our first priority, we need to get the economy turning over," Bremer said. "One of the things that is already creating jobs is the fact that we're paying salaries to almost two million civil servants."


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