By Jasmine Chopra
KARBALA, Iraq (March 14, 2008) — Boosting agribusiness, tourism and private investment by way of social venture capital were the top issues discussed at a March 12 meeting at Iraqi police headquarters in Karbala. Iraqi government officials, local businessmen, Multi-National Division – Center leaders and provincial reconstruction team members participated in the meeting. Security in Karbala is steadily improving, said Karbala provincial governor Aqil al-Khazali, as evidenced by the millions of pilgrims who safely commemorated Ashura in the holy city. “Karbala is ready for investment,” al-Khazali said.
Brig. Gen. Edward Cardon, MND-C deputy commander for support, agreed safety has improved and Iraqis are doing a good job of policing their own communities. “I don’t have to visit Karbala often because you have proven capable of handling the situation,” he said to Maj. Gen. Ra’ad Jawad, chief of the Karbala provincial police.
With improved safety, local business leaders and PRT members are planning ways to link Karbala to U.S. Agency for International Development programs as well as lucrative private investment, said Don Cook, a PRT team leader.
Vast agricultural resources, in particular poultry farms, make opportunities for high return in the agribusiness sector possible, said A.A. Araji, an agricultural economist who believes employing the use of greenhouses is an efficient way for Karbala to maximize its agricultural potential. Al-Khazali and local business leaders are eager to see funds earmarked for Karbala’s redevelopment make their way to local government instead of getting stuck in Baghdad bureaucracy, they said. “We would like to see monies forwarded directly to our local government. We can handle such responsibility and we want to make sure promises for aid are kept,” al-Khazali said.
In addition to agribusiness opportunities, participants discussed ways to tap into Karbala’s religious tourism potential. Considered a holy city to most Shia Muslims, Karbala is home to sacred shrines. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, the pilgrimage to Karbala was banned. This year’s Ashura events, which occurred in late February and early March, were largely peaceful, Jawad said, speaking through an interpreter.
Local businessmen hope reduced violence will stimulate religious tourism and persuade would-be tourists to fill hotels and restaurants in Karbala, they said. Participants also explored ways of bringing private investors to the table. Plans for an unnamed private investment company official to meet with Karbala government leaders and PRT members next week were established. “We want to see the people of Karbala succeed,” Cardon said.
Photo: Boosting agribusiness, tourism and private investment by way of social venture capital were among top issues discussed at a March 12 meeting at Iraqi police headquarters in Karbala.(U.S. Army photo).