Just five years ago, civil war threatened to engulf Iraq. More than 140,000 U.S. troops were stationed throughout the country battling an insurgency that many predicted would prevail.
Yet today, after enormous sacrifices from the Iraqi people and American troops and civilians, Iraq is a country transformed. In our efforts to help, we have used the full range of our civilian resources -- what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likes to call "smart power" -- to help Iraq become a sovereign, stable and self-reliant country. While Iraq still faces significant challenges, today it is poised to become an important American partner in the strategic heart of the Middle East. And America's troops will be home by the end of the year.
That means it's time to start thinking of Iraq not as a war but as a country. And at a time when Americans' economic needs are great, Iraq's fast-growing economy can create opportunities to help our own recovery.
Few are aware that Iraq is actually projected to grow faster than China or India during the next five years. Iraq is already one of the world's leading oil exporters, and it will be ramping up production in the years ahead. As it does, not just oil companies stand to benefit. Iraq is investing billions to rebuild just about every sector of its economy -- including its utilities infrastructure, transportation network, education, health care, agriculture and telecommunications systems. Iraq also has one of the largest customer bases in the entire Arab world.
Today, companies from China, France, Germany, Turkey and Iran are lining up to do business. We are working to make sure that American companies can seize these opportunities, too.
From November 1 to November 10, for the first time since 1988, the United States showcased its businesses, universities and tourism organizations at Iraq's annual flagship trade event, the Baghdad International Trade Fair. After years during which Iraq's security was the first, second and third question on people's minds, this was a symbol of how far we have come.
Under the USA Pavilion at the fair, our Embassy in Baghdad housed a dozen Fortune 100 companies, as well as business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National U.S. Arab Chamber of Commerce. The trade fair was not a small gathering: It attracted more than one million visitors.
Honeywell, for example, established offices in Baghdad in 2010 and opened a new office in Basra this month. Microsoft is opening training centers to gain a foothold in Iraq's growing business sector and its market of 30 million potential customers. The Boeing Co. has contracted with the Iraqi government to deliver thirty 737 and ten 787 airplanes, and General Electric Co. has billions of dollars in contracts with Iraq for turbines that will help improve the national electricity grid. Each of these deals will help Iraq stand on its feet. And each will create well-paying jobs in America. Over the past couple of years, as Iraqi security forces have taken over responsibility for internal security, violence has remained at historically low levels since its peak in 2007. That said, terrorist attacks are still part of Iraqi life. Not all companies will want to invest in such an environment, but we will support those that do. We and the Iraqis recognize much more needs to be done.
Iraqis have work to do in other sectors as well. We are working with Iraqi banks to embrace international banking practices. We are engaging Iraqi leaders in business and government to fight and end the corruption that exists at all levels of the Iraqi economy. And we are partnering with Iraq's military and police forces to continue to improve their human rights record.
A great deal of work lies ahead for Iraq and for the companies hoping to do business there. When you consider how far Iraq has already come from its darkest days of war, these tasks no longer look quite so daunting.
This is a moment when the needs of the Americans and Iraqis point us in the same direction: to seek business opportunities in Iraq. If we can export our expertise, innovation and quality products to Iraq, that will create jobs from Boise to Baghdad.
Americans and Iraqis have made heroic sacrifices to help us reach this point in Iraq. For both nations, the memories of war are still fresh. It's time to begin a new chapter -- one that will help Americans and Iraqis prosper together.
Note: This entry was first published on Politico.com.