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Un-Employing Extremism

How can a dusty, partly-abandoned ceramics factory on the edge of Ramadi help stem the tide of al-Qaeda in Iraq?

This is one of the conundrums that the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team faces in this gritty Western Iraqi city. Ramadi was overrun by al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups for much of the past five years, until Iraqi tribal leaders finally succeeded, earlier this year, in routing them out of the city.

In the past few months reconstruction has begun – or at least what passes for reconstruction in Iraq since the invasion. That is, tearing down bomb-damaged buildings (in Ramadi’s case that amounts to a large swathe of downtown), patching up the rest, and clearing away the rubble. So far over $200 million has been spent on the cleanup. I’ve witnessed this process before, right after the war, and again following U.S. offensives in Fallujah. But what happens next? That’s the big question facing Ramadi, and really the rest of the country. Once you’ve cleared out al-Qaeda, how do you bolster civic society and local governance to stop extremists from returning?

That’s where the State Company for Glass and Ceramics comes in. Until last year the Ramadi factory sat empty, as did 200 other state-owned enterprises. In 2003, I spoke with U.S. officials who roundly dismissed these enterprises: most were antiquated Ba’athist behemoths. The few that could produce something useful should be privatized, officials said; the rest – well, if they couldn’t survive market forces then they deserved to crumble. This neo-conservative economic theory neglected the broader role of these industries in supplying over 600,000 jobs and some, albeit limited, consumer products.

Only lately has the Bush administration realized that the war on terror is as much a war on poverty as anything else, and that the most effective tool for combating extremism is to provide jobs. But as the leader of Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ramadi, Jim Soriano, told me when I was there, getting the factory up and running is just the beginning.

“The question is, how do you take the Iraqi economy to the next step? We’ve succeeded in stabilizing things in Ramadi. But where are the big projects that are going to transform the situation on the ground?” said Soriano.

Last month, an Iraqi-hosted conference in Dubai sought to attract $2 billion worth of private investment for factories like the one in Ramadi, but it failed to earn any bids. Similar efforts to lure in companies to build new five-star hotels and power stations – the sort of facilities that can take Iraq to the “next step” – have yet to come to anything.

In the meantime the tiles from the factory in Ramadi quietly pile up in the corner, waiting for the day when the Iraqi economy takes off and leaves fundamentalism behind.

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Comments (3)


Just get F out of Iraq why is that so hard to understand?

If we just took the interest on the money spent for the two wars it would provide jobs for some 50 to 100k people (like roosevelts CCA's).

No money to Iraq no to afghanistan no to israel, no to jordan and no to Egypt. Keep our tax monies at home and use it for work and jobs at home.

If these mssrs Fareed and David love the war so much let them go there.



Thank you David, for showing that running an empire can be difficult and complicated.

It makes sense that the Iraqi factory jeopardizes US militarys ecurity given its proximity.

I have a solution for America: get the hell out of Iraq. Just get out. That way, you don't have to worry about security, or economic problems inside Iraq.

The underlying concept behind this Fairweather article is what is the manner of American imperialism, colonization of Iraq. It could have been written 200 years ago regarding Britain, or France.

To no surprise, America is just like the others, with different political structures and formal facades.

So be it: America is an empire and Fairweather is a low level Kipling.

David Repp:

I was in Ramadi in 2006 as a military journalist and taken to that factory. Another problem is, of course, the proximity of that factory to the major U.S. base there. How can you allow a private company to have ground that close to a U.S. base without U.S. security?
Plenty of jobs could be provided for in Ramadi if, instead of paying ridiculous contracts to contractors in the Green Zone, they paid people to reconstruct the destruction in that city. The roads, the buildings, everything. We just made a huge farm bill in the U.S., how about the Iraqi government, with its surplus budget subsidizes farmers in the area so that they can feed the locals. The glass factory is just a small piece of the puzzle, and most likely, the last piece.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.