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[casi] Iraq industries - except oil - up for sale to highest bidder

Iraq industries - except oil - up for sale to highest bidder
By Jack Fairweather in Baghdad
(Filed: 22/09/2003)

Iraq was put up for auction yesterday following the announcement by the
country's United States-backed administration that foreign investors are to
be allowed to buy complete control of Iraqi enterprises, with the exception
of the oil industry.

Everything from power stations to banks will be open to bidding under
sweeping reforms designed to prime Iraq's formerly state-controlled economy,
which has been in decline for more than a decade.

At the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in
Dubai, Kamel al-Keylani, Iraq's interim finance minister, said: "The
measures will be implemented in the near future and represent important
steps in advancing Iraq's reconstruction effort."

Iraq needs an estimated $90 billion (55 million) of investment. Since the
collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, the only source of investment has
been foreign government spending, mainly American.

Although hailed by Iraq's administration as a key step in the rebuilding
process, the announcement will intensify feelings in the Arab world that
American military action in Iraq was motivated by economic considerations.

The country's oil reserves - the control of which was considered by some
critics as the only reason for the US action of ousting Saddam - remain in
Iraqi hands but American companies have so far been the biggest recipients
of reconstruction contracts.

Foreign companies are also wary of investing in trouble-torn Iraq after a
summer campaign of bombings by Saddam loyalists, including that of the
United Nations compound in which 22 people were killed.

Violence flared again late on Saturday night when two US military policemen
were killed and 13 wounded in a mortar attack at the main Abu Ghraib prison
to the west of the Iraqi capital. No prisoners were hurt.

Another soldier died in a separate incident when a roadside bomb exploded
near his Humvee military vehicle near the town of Ramadi, also to the west
of Baghdad.

Last night two mortars were fired at the US military headquarters in the
northern city of Mosul. Witnesses reported smoke rising from the area, but
it was not immediately known if there were any casualties.

The deaths bring to 81 the number of US soldiers killed in attacks in Iraq
since May 1, when President George W Bush declared an end to "major combat
operations" following the fall of Baghdad to coalition forces.

Aqila al-Hashimi, the Governing Council member who survived an assassination
attempt that also took place on Saturday, was reported to be in a stable but
critical condition in hospital yesterday.

Mrs Al-Hashimi was shot in the stomach, shoulder and leg by gunmen while
leaving her home in western Baghdad, with the administration in Iraq blaming
Saddam loyalists for the attack. She is a Shi'ite Muslim career diplomat and
the most prominent woman on the Governing Council.

The American civilian administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, condemned the
shooting yesterday as a "horrific and cowardly act".

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