Much more than savings and loans

A sign at the Bank of Baghdad in the capital's Karrada neighborhood in 2004.

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KAI RYSSDAL: A guy named Pat Eldridge helped set up a bank not too long ago. He had some of the same issues other financial institutions have: finding a space, getting the right equipment and arranging for deposit of the bank's working reserves.

There were some complications, though, that most bankers in this country don't have to deal with. We spoke with the Marine captain from Hit, Iraq, in Anbar province last week:

PAT ELDRIDGE: We did a project in our town to get some equipment that was either destroyed or lost -- such as money counters, computers, desk and chairs... simple things like that. And most importantly, we assisted with getting money from the Director General Bank, the head bank in Baghdad, to its branch bank, which is the one located in Hit, and the Al Rasheed Bank.

RYSSDAL: What was the economy like there before you had that bank up and running?

ELDRIDGE: I think the economy was slow in developing, and that all goes back to security. Once the security here really started to take shape, things started to pick up. People started to want to interact with the bank again, to pay back loans, to establish savings accounts... You got the state-owned enterprises in the area to interact with the bank. Another important piece to that is, you have a system where if you're a retiree, you collect a pension. And the way you get that pension is through the local bank. So it's actually very important.

RYSSDAL: How do you pick your way through the religious differences, through the social differences, that present themselves when you're trying to open an economy up there?

ELDRIDGE: You find out what makes their economy tick. And really, the social and religious aspects don't really play too much of a role. When it really comes down to business -- you know, business is business. And you're talking about different products and their economy. But when it comes right down to it, you find a common ground. I'm lucky enough to have a very professional and competent interpreter, and it makes things a lot easier when it comes to some of those cultural aspects and the language barrier.

RYSSDAL: How are you going to know when you're done -- when you've got it right, and the Iraqis can do this for themselves?

ELDRIDGE: Some of the things we particularly look for in my team is, are they able to provide the basic services that the bank is trying to provide? They want people to come in and establish savings accounts, people are paying back old loans, they are able to provide money to the bank by themselves, securely from the D.G. in Baghdad to their bank... And what are they not able to do? We figure there's a couple things they're still not able to do. One of those is which, they're not able to give out loans yet. And I'm not particularly sure why they can't do that, and I think part of that is there's a level of trust and security that the bank itself has established before they start doing that.

RYSSDAL: Anybody ever rob a bank over there?

ELDRIDGE: Not that I know of -- not since I've been here, for sure. I can't imagine. I feel bad for the guy who would try to do that at the bank here...

RYSSDAL: Marine Capt. Pat Eldridge runs a civil affairs team in Hit, Iraq -- that's out in western Anbar province. Capt. Eldridge, thanks a lot for your time.

ELDRIDGE: Sir, I appreciate you having me.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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