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3 U.S. soldiers die as Iraq opens to foreign investors

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Three U.S. soldiers were killed in two separate overnight attacks as Iraq's finance minister announced Sunday a package of reforms that will open up the country to substantial foreign investment for the first time since before the 1991 Gulf War.

One soldier with the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment died after his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb around 9:30 p.m. Saturday in the town of Ramadi, about 60 miles west of Baghdad, a military spokesman said

Two soldiers with the Army's 205th Military Intelligence Brigade died and 13 were wounded less than a half-hour later when Iraqi guerrillas fired two mortar rounds on their camp at Abu Ghraib prison, 20 miles west of the capital. The wounded soldiers were evacuated for treatment, and no prisoners were hurt in the attack, said Sgt. Amy Abbott, a coalition spokeswoman.

Both incidents occurred in the so-called "Sunni Triangle," which runs west and north from Baghdad and where attacks on U.S. forces occur almost daily.

The latest deaths bring to 304 the number of troops who have died in Iraq since the war began March 19, according to U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla. Nearly 1,300 soldiers have been wounded in action, more than 720 of them since May 1.

The attacks followed an assassination attempt Saturday on Akila al Hashimi, one of three women on Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council. Gunmen ambushed Hashimi Saturday morning as she left her Baghdad home, leaving her with gunshot wounds to the shoulder, leg and abdomen. Hashimi was treated in a local hospital, then was transferred to a U.S. medical facility, where she was scheduled for a second operation to remove the bullet lodged in her abdomen. She was reported in critical, but stable condition.

The attempt on Hashimi's life coupled with continuing attacks on U.S. troops underscore the turmoil that is still roiling Iraq as U.S.-led occupation authorities and the country's interim government struggle to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, devastated by two decades of war and neglect under Saddam Hussein's former regime.

Estimates for rebuilding the country range as high as $100 billion over the next 10 years. President Bush wants Congress to fund $20 billion in reconstruction money next year alone.

In an effort to get foreign investment rolling, Iraq's Finance Minister Kamel al Gailani announced Sunday a sweeping package of financial and economic reforms at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conference in Dubai.

Under the measures, foreigners would be allowed to invest directly and have 100 percent ownership of all businesses in every sector of Iraq's economy, except for oil, natural gas and other natural resources. Foreigners would not be allowed to own property, but could lease it for up to 40 years.

The plan would also allow for foreign banks to set up branches in the country and would allow six foreign banks to purchase up to 100 percent of local banks within the next five years. Two foreign banks would be allowed "fast-track" entry into the country in order to attract further investment.

"The reforms will significantly advance efforts to build a free and open market economy in Iraq, promote Iraq's future economic growth, (and) accelerate Iraq's reentry into the international economy and reintegration with other countries," Gailani said, in a statement issued in Baghdad.

The measures continue Iraq's tariff-free entry on imported goods through 2003, but will impose a five percent "reconstruction tax" on all imports beginning next year, except for humanitarian aid. A 15 percent private and corporate income tax would also be instituted.

The broad reforms bring to an end almost 30 years of state ownership that characterized Saddam's regime and the socialist economic policies of his ruling Baath Party. The measures were in part aimed boosting world opinion before next month's donors' conference in Madrid.

U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow, also in Dubai, hailed the plan as a smart step for a new Iraqi economy, but warned that substantial foreign investment would require a more stable environment.

With crime in Iraq rampant and with the guerrilla war appearing to worsen, Iraq may offer more risk than most investors are willing to take.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.