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First Iraqi bank on American base opens at JBB

Dec 19, 2009

By 13th Sustainment Command Expeditionary Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - Contractors and Iraqi entrepreneurs throughout Joint Base Balad, Iraq now have access to the Al Warka Bank, after the opening of a branch Dec. 17 at the Iraqi Free Zone.

"The importance of today can't be understated," said Brig. Gen. Paul L. Wentz, commanding general of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) out of Fort Hood, Texas. "This is the first Iraqi bank to be opened on an American base. We're thrilled that they've chosen Joint Base Balad to open another branch."

Wentz said the bank opening is an important symbol for the independence and sovereignty of Iraq, as well as the growth and stability of the institution.

The Al Warka Bank is one of the largest financial institutions in Iraq, with 120 branches and 350 ATMs located throughout the country, said Maj. David M. Foster, the officer in charge of the Iraq-Based Industrial Zone, with the 13th ESC.

The bank is considered by the Central Bank of Iraq to be the first private bank in Iraq and was established in 1999, he said.

"It feels real good to finally get the bank done," said Foster, a Newport Beach, Calif., native. "The process has taken almost two years."

Said Saleh Mohammed, the regional manager of Al Warka Bank for the Salah ad Din province, said through an interpreter if contractors or Iraqi entrepreneurs open an account at this branch, it is just like opening an account at any other branch in Iraq.

"We are so glad to open another branch here at JBB, because we are going to have all the contractors and local nationals invest at the bank to make it easy for them," he said.

Mohammed, who works at the Iraqi Bazaar and prefers to go by his first name, said through an interpreter he is happy about the bank opening because it is a good way for Iraq to begin replacing American currency with Iraqi money.

Mohammed also said he likes the ATM, as it allows them easier access to their money. The debit card the bank provides can be used throughout Iraq and helps business because the Iraqi Bazaar will start accepting them as well, he said.

Foster said the banks are fee-based, offering services such as foreign currency exchange, money wiring, letters of credit, electronic funds transfers, and savings and checking accounts.

He said the bank will provide services to Iraqis who work at JBB who may not have access to them in their local communities, and will give them the opportunity to learn how to use the banking services Al Warka provides.

Said Saleh Mohammed said the Iraqi bank will also help the local economy by providing jobs.

Bank administrators plan to open another bank in Tikrit, Said Saleh Mohammed said. The process should be go smoother this time, using JBB as a model, he said.

"We would like to thank everyone that helped open this bank, especially the Iraqi-Based Industrial Zone," said Said Saleh Mohammed. "Hopefully, we're going to be able to help the Iraqis and the Americans."

Foster said he was excited to watch the new business open.

"It has been a long journey to be here today," he said. "We've had to overcome numerous obstacles. With the help of various Army, Air Force, and state department organizations, we were able to overcome those obstacles."

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