By Maj. Luke Hammond, 4-1 Public AffairsMarch 20, 2010
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq -- The Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone here, has long been a place where aspiring business-minded Iraqis work with U.S. forces and support the local economy by providing jobs. Whether they are contractors competing for contracts on COB Adder, or vendors selling everything from paintings to rugs, the IBIZ is abuzz with constant activity.
However, on Jan. 13, 2010, COB Adder saw one of the most significant events to happen in IBIZ since its establishment: the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony of Warka Bank.
Warka has one of the largest banking operations in Iraq, operating over 150 locations throughout the country.
Initially proposed in the summer of 2009, the establishment of a bank within IBIZ presents will greatly aid Iraqi businesses and U.S. objectives. The bank will bring to the area - for the first time - electronic funds transfer capabilities.
Having EFT capability within the IBIZ is a critical turning point in how U.S. forces and contracting agencies such as KBR pay the Iraqi contractors who will soon do a majority of the business on COB Adder.
The base, also known as the Tallil - meaning "rule of Ali" - Airbase, is home to over 13,000 Soldiers and civilians and serves as a major logistics hub for U.S. forces in the nine provinces overseen by United States Division-South.
Until recently, contractors received payment for services rendered by drawing funds directly from the local finance unit. This made the payment of contractors impossible without U.S. forces assistance.
While the payment process has largely shifted to EFT, not having an EFT-capable bank nearby meant that many of the contractors were forced to drive miles away from COB Adder in order to draw the funds to pay their workers.
In addition, having EFT capability allows for local workers to be paid electronically, provided they establish an account, and gives local contractors the ability to conduct all their financial business at COB Adder.
It is also a much more secure method of payment, without the risk of cash being lost or stolen.
The introduction of EFT capability also supports two of the U.S. drawdown's objectives: reduction of Iraqi reliance on U.S. support and the removal of the U.S. dollar from the Iraqi economy.
While reducing U.S. presence is an ongoing mission, making the Iraqi Dinar primary form of currency is more of a challenge. By eventually making EFT a standard practice, the amount of foreign currency introduced into Iraq is reduced dramatically.
The opening ceremony for Warka Bank drew elected Iraqi officials, including Ali Sadkham Eleqai, the Nasiriyah District Chairman, leaders from the Dhi Qar Provincial Reconstruction Team and a smattering of U.S. Soldiers, Defense Department civilians, and other well-wishers.
Abass Matrood, the regional manager for Warka Bank, Safa Abd Ali, a local manager, and his staffers - many of them women - also attended.
The ceremony began with a brief introduction of the bank and its capabilities by the COB Adder IBIZ manager, Maj. Luke Hammond. He was followed by Matrood, as well as Eleqai.
Lt. Col. Alan Shumate, commander of the Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, has oversight of the IBIZ operations. He, Matrood and Ali cut the ceremonial ribbon, and everyone entered the bank for refreshments and cake.
Matrood was especially happy to see the completion of the latest branch. He oversees five different banks throughout the Dhi Qar Province, and sees this latest branch as a benefit to the local economy.
"This is a proud day for the Warka bank," said Matrood. "We appreciate our partnership with the U.S. forces at Imam Ali base and anyone is welcome to open an account here today."
During the construction of the bank, many people wondered if there even was a market for a bank at COB Adder, but only 24 hours after the opening ceremony, the bank was busy with customers, helping U.S. Soldiers, Defense Department civilians and contractors alike.