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Basra residents safer, but looking for work

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At the nearby deep-water port of Um Qasr, business has picked up dramatically since the port was wrenched from militia control. But shipping experts say it also needs a revamped infrastructure, guaranteed power, and additional berths before it approaches international standards. Business people still complain that the port is riddled with corruption and its payroll is inflated with unqualified and sometimes nonexistent employees – a problem throughout Iraq.

The new provincial government's priorities are maintaining security, repairing the damaged infrastructure, and addressing unemployment, said to be 30 to 50 percent of the workforce – even higher than that in Baghdad.

Mr. Sharad says that much of the job creation will come from investment from neighboring countries, including Iran and Kuwait, and from Iraqi expatriates.

Iran and Iraq recently signed memorandums of understanding meant to increase bilateral trade to $10 billion by 2010 – among the projects are a $1.5 billion deal to build a housing complex south of Basra. As with a $3.7 billion agreement for Italy to construct a new port, it is only in the feasibility planning stages.

As for private investment, most of the focus is on Iraq's oil industry. While there are potential fortunes to be made here in the southern oil fields, most big oil companies are hanging back, waiting for oil legislation that would make their position clearer under Iraqi law.

Rebuilding law and order

Although there's been a vast improvement in security since the militias were driven out last year, in the current climate of budget cuts rebuilding Basra's police force could take years. Basra's police force had been widely infiltrated by the militias – more than half the police force either fled during the fighting or was later dismissed, officials say.

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