Money the key to peace, says Iraq's Finance Minister
July 15, 2008 - 1:02AM
Finance Minister Bayan Jabr Solagh says that Iraq's booming oil wealth holds the key to peace and urged foreign investors to take part in huge projects planned by his war-ravaged country.
With state revenues quadrupled since the US-led invasion of 2003 and amid soaring world oil prices, "from my point of view, money is key to peace, it is the main key," Mr Solagh said.
Iraq's oil revenues for 2008 are set to jump to more than $80 billion, earmarked for running expenditure and development projects.
"It is the first year since 2003 that we have access to that kind of money," said the upbeat Finance Minister who boasted a vision for Iraq with a more prosperous and secure future.
The army of jobless needing money to feed their families has created a pool of recruits for Al Qaeda insurgents or the ex-Baathists of toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, he cautioned.
But the Government's aim was to "bring peace to Iraq" by creating jobs and rebuilding the country, said the Minister in the Shiite-led Government.
No official figures have been issued for unemployment in Iraq, a country of 26 million people, but it is estimated to affect half or more of the potential working population.
Mr Solagh, who spoke in English, said the Government has decided to set up a strategic fund, apart from the state's general budget and an additional finance law, to fund priority projects.
He invited "the French, the Europeans, the Americans to share in this project directly or indirectly through joint ventures" to build refineries, roads, railways, 15 ultra-modern hospitals and ports, and to purchase aircraft.
The 2008 state budget of $US48.3 billion has already been achieved in the first six months of the year, the minister said.
A supplementary budget of $US21 billion was set aside at the start of July to finance operations in the oil, electricity, security, public services and housing sectors.
Baghdad also plans to set aside $5-10 billion for strategic projects.
Oil accounts for 93 per cent of Iraq's revenues, with the 2008 budget calculated on the basis of a conservative estimate of $US57 a barrel for crude, in sharp contrast to last week's peak of more than $US140.
"We have a lot of money outside the budget ... We have more money, but it is a secret," said Mr Solagh, adding that the 2009 budget was expected to range between $US80 and $US90 billion.
"We have a strategic plan for the next three years. Iraq has a vision" for its future, he stressed. "The ministry of planning has focused on investments and we are focusing on executing the budget."
He's quite right, of course; and the big shame is that all this didn't happen quite a few years ago. Maybe it couldn't until now; I don't know. But it is good that it's happening now, and if the rest of the world does pitch in and invest in Iraq (with the percentage of foreign investment carefully controlled and capped below half, and with ownership in Iraqi hands regardless of who is providing the expertise), that can surely only be a good thing. And as Solagh points out, if there are less idle (and desperate) hands, there's less chance of the Devil's work progressing.