U.S. partners with Iraq to stabilize economy

Story and photos by Sgt. Tresa L. Allemang
199th Garrison Command Public Affairs
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq — Officials and employees with the Bank of Baghdad recently began construction on a new branch at Victory Base Complex, Iraq, and a stronger Iraqi economy.

“Iraq’s Victory Base Complex vendors, contractors and civilians will soon have a new bank to meet their financial service needs,” said Maj. Andrea Singer, theater financial management liaison officer for the 326th Theater Financial Management Center and a Los Angeles native.

Singer said the Victory Base Complex branch of Bank of Baghdad will be one of 10 Iraqi banks to be established on U.S. bases throughout Iraq, and is the second on VBC, as part of the Banks on Bases Initiative.

The new bank, expected to open in about 10 weeks, will ease the impact on the Iraq Joint Operations Area as the financial management units help set the conditions for the upcoming responsible drawdown of U.S. troops and equipment from Iraq, said Capt. Eric C. LaBay, banking and e-commerce officer with the 15th Financial Management Company, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Denver, Colo., native.

Singer explained that the goal of the Banks on Bases Initiative is to transition the installation eventually, as well as the rest of the country, into using the Iraqi Dinar, instead of U.S. currency, to help strengthen the Iraqi economy.

“The dependence on U.S. currency has resulted in the dollarization of the Iraqi economy, which increases the probability of fraud and exposes service members to unnecessary risk by creating a potential funding source for our adversaries,” she said. “By de-dollarizing the Iraqi economy we are helping to strengthen the Iraqi business and banking infrastructure and improving the value of the local currency.”

Singer said this bank will be available for use by local nationals, third-country nationals, and contractors working on Victory Base Complex, and also noted that the Bank of Baghdad was approved by the U.S. Treasury to hold government funds for U.S. Army finance companies.

“Having banks on bases throughout Iraq also allows the U.S. government to send electronic payments to our vendors rather than disburse cash,” added Capt. Shaun Miller, banking officer for Iraq with U.S. Central Command, and a Washington D.C. native.

“We have already seen a domino-like effect at other bases, where vendors and contractors are turning around and paying their employees electronically as well,” Miller said. “We are promoting financial cultural change toward the banking system, and away from cash.”

Singer said as local nationals see the benefits of using their banking system, they will gain confidence and will begin establishing checking and savings accounts, as well as be able to obtain loans.

“This bank will not only create jobs, but will also increase the confidence in the Iraqi Dinar and the Iraqi banking system,” She said. “Iraqis are still learning to place faith in their banking system because when Saddam (Hussein) was in power, it was not uncommon for him to seize bank assets.”

To date, the U.S. financial management community and the Iraqi-based Industrial Zone, known as I-BIZ, with assistance from Miller, have been responsible for opening Iraqi banks on two of the U.S. enduring bases.  Eight additional “Banks on Bases,” facilities have been solicited throughout Iraq, and are expected to be operational within the year.

“This is a great example of the partnership we’ve created,” said Maj. Jerry England, I-BIZ project coordinator, and a Fort Leavenworth, Kan., native. “Together we are working to build the economy.”

 

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(From left), Bank of Baghdad employees (from left), Sahir Mahmood, regional manager; Elaf Shukur, Victory Base Complex branch manager; Saraj Al Deen A. Bahjat, marketing manager; Abdul Ameer Al Shameri, executive manager of engineering; and Khaldun Khalid, customer service representative, break ground May 12 at Camp Liberty as the Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone’s Golden Construction Company prepares to build the new facility on the base. The bank is expected to open in about 10 weeks, and is being built to help stabilize the country as the U.S. prepares for the upcoming responsible drawdown of its forces. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Tresa Allemang)

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Maj. Andrea Singer (second from left), a finance liaison officer for the 326th Financial Management Center and a Los Angeles native; Capt. Eric C. LaBay (third from left), banking and e-commerce officer with the 15th Financial Management Company, 3rd Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Denver, Colo., native; and Maj. Jerry England (third from left), I-BIZ project coordinator, and a Fort Leavenworth, Kan., native, who were responsible for assisting with the contracting and construction of the Bank of Baghdad, pose for a group photo May 12 with bank employees at a ground breaking for the new facility on the base. The bank is expected to open in about 10 weeks, and is being built to help stabilize the country as the U.S. prepares for the upcoming responsible drawdown of its forces. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Tresa Allemang)