Iraq's Army Of Unemployed

Six months after America's lightning war in Iraq, the vast majority of Iraqi workers are unemployed. The Labor Ministry estimates 70 percent or more, some 12 million Iraqis, are without jobs.

Summarizing a half-year of occupation last week, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer pointed to Baghdad's reopened shops and traffic-filled streets. "Anyone can see the wheels of commerce turning," he told reporters.

His economic status report did not mention the millions of idle workers, but Iraqis see them everywhere, on their streets, in their homes. "This is our biggest problem today," said Nouri Jafer, labor undersecretary in Iraq's interim Cabinet.

The U.S.-British coalition occupying Iraq must redouble its efforts during "difficult months ahead" to tackle terrorists and Saddam Hussein loyalists operating in parts of the country, Britain's envoy to Iraq said Thursday

Jeremy Greenstock told reporters in London that the coalition must speed up its training of Iraqi police and a civil defense force, and needed several thousand Iraqis to secure the nation's porous borders.

"We are expecting still some difficult months ahead in terms of sheer terrorism and the ability to plant bombs and fire weapons at us," said Greenstock. "Their brutality goes a long way down into soft target areas. They do not seem to mind who they kill."

In other developments:

  • In a dramatic shift by countries who had bitterly opposed the U.S.-led war, Germany, France and Russia said they will vote in favor of the U.S.-drafted U.N. resolution on Iraq. But German and French officials said the European support would not translate into the funds and troops sought by the United States.
  • An explosion in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit killed a 4-year-old girl and critically wounded her 12-year-old sister. U.S. soldiers say they believe the intended to target was two U.S. armored vehicles.
  • In Basra, an Iraqi doctor, Haidar al-Baaj, was shot in the back of the head and killed as he was entering his private clinic, hospital officials said Thursday.
  • There could be a showdown in the Senate on Thursday. A bipartisan group of senators is insisting that half the $20 billion President Bush wants for Iraq's reconstruction should be a loan. The administration wants the money to be a grant.
  • House Republicans have chopped $100 million from Mr. Bush's bill for resurrecting the Mesopotamian marshlands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
  • The sources of Saddam Hussein's illegal stores of weapons are being tracked by U.S. investigators, who say a father and son with California ties are the first people to be charged as illicit suppliers. Authorities say the charges are only the first to result from some 30 investigations.
  • Two Democratic lawmakers say Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, Halliburton, is gouging U.S. taxpayers by billing the Army between $1.62 and $1.70 per gallon, while the average price for Middle East gasoline is 71 cents. Halliburton denies the allegation.
  • Acting through a prominent conservative with friends at the Pentagon, a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal has passed allegations to the Bush administration that enriched uranium was smuggled from Iraq into Iran five years ago and some may remain hidden in Iraq.

    Iraq became a land of the unemployed when the government collapsed in April under attack from the U.S.-British invasion force, and its ministries were burned and state-owned factories and oil installations looted in the war's chaotic aftermath. Then, after taking over in early May, Bremer formally dissolved the Iraqi army.

    "The first mistake was when they disestablished the army and police forces," Jafer said. "This created more unemployment because (President) Saddam Hussein had more than a million in the security forces."

    Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority is rebuilding a police force — 40,000 nationally thus far — but has only begun reviving the army, with just one 700-man battalion. Some state factories from the old government-run economy have managed to reopen, but heavier industries remain closed, especially those associated with military products.

    The U.S.-led authority, through Iraq's interim administration, the Governing Council, has financed 340,000 emergency jobs, generally paying the equivalent of $3 a day to a new army of 180,000 street cleaners across Iraq and 160,000 people clearing the countryside's poorly maintained irrigation canals.

    In the face of 12 million, however, "this is a very small number," Jafer said.

    Flying in from Washington, American planners have their ideas: to privatize Iraq's economy by selling off promising state companies to investors — Iraqi investors, they hope, but foreigners if necessary.

    But a major U.N. assessment issued Oct. 3 said privatization of Iraq's state-owned enterprises should take at least four years.

    And nearly uncontrolled crime, especially in Baghdad, coupled with bombing attacks aimed at the Americans and their supporters, have largely kept outside businesses away.

    Meanwhile, both Iraqis and Americans are bearing the human cost of that instability. With Psalms and a 21-gun salute Thursday, soldiers hailed two fallen comrades from the 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry Regiment in a memorial service at one of Saddam's palaces.

    Several hundred soldiers, including those of Wheeler's Charlie Company and Powell's Bravo Company, gathered at the downtown palace for the somber ceremony.

    "We mourn their loss; we honor their sacrifice," said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, the battalion commander.

    Company commanders recounted how Powell had volunteered for a combat mission although he was due for home leave within days, and talked of Wheeler's "contagious smile and boundless enthusiasm."

    A bugler played taps. A female soldier sang 'America the Beautiful' and 'Amazing Grace.' Tears streaming down their cheeks, the troops then filed one by one by the podium to pay their respects.