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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Running a small business is a risky proposition at any time, but try it in this economic climate and try it in Iraq. And let's throw in trying it if you are an Iraqi woman.

Since 2005, more than 1,800 Iraqi women-owned businesses have been registered to offer goods and services to the U.S. government. Today we're going to talk with two female entrepreneurs in Baghdad. Dr. Warka Hamoud took over Ataland(ph) in 2003, expanding a business started by her brother-in-law. Ataland contracts with the U.S. Army. Projects have included installing a potable water network south of Baghdad and renovating a joint U.S.-Iraqi military camp. She splits her time between Amman, Jordan, where her family lives, and Baghdad.

Dr. Hamoud, welcome to the program.

Dr. WARKA HAMOUD (Ataland): Welcome. Hello.

WERTHEIMER: We're also speaking with Mary Terese Marrow of Melik al-Misk Trading and General Contracts. Ms. Marrow began her company in her home in 2005. She's had contracts delivering furniture and trailers all around Iraq for the U.S. government. Melik Al Misk has also operated a trade school where former detainees and other young men have trained to be welders, electricians and mechanics. Ms. Marrow, thank you for joining us.

Ms. MARY TERESE MARROW (Melik Al Misk Trading and General Contracts): Yes, okay.

WERTHEIMER: If I could just start with you, what were some of the biggest obstacles you faced when you were trying to start your business four years ago?

Ms. MARROW: My biggest problem was started from the family because they are not used to a woman having her own company. And, you know, in 2005, the security was very danger at that time, but I didn't stop. I established my company in 2005 and got the first contract in 2006.

WERTHEIMER: How did you finance starting your business?

Ms. MARROW: We have some money and through this money we started our business. Because, you know, my husband is a dentist and I'm civil engineer, and I worked for the Iraqi government for 15 years as resident engineer. So we have financially okay.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that through your trade school, you have Sunni, Shia and Christians all working together on projects.

Ms. MARROW: Yes. Through our program and through my people, in a diplomatic way they treated the people, we could work, Sunni, Shia and Christians over there. And believe me, we didn't have any problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: How about dealing with the Americans, the military people? How does that work?

Ms. MARROW: I'm used to deal with men. Because when I was resident engineer I used to be by myself in one side with 500 workers, which are at that time they were Indians. So I have no problem in dealing with whether U.S. male or any other nationalities. I used to deal with men.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. Hamoud.

Dr. HAMOUD: Yes.

WERTHEIMER: I also have some questions for you, and I wanted to start with your background. I understand that you are trained as a dentist and a facial surgeon. Are you still practicing?

Dr. HAMOUD: No. For the time being, no. Let's say since three or four years ago because I had to close my clinic. I had an accident so I had to close my clinic, and now I'm not practicing.

WERTHEIMER: I also understand that in 2007, you were kidnapped. Were you held for ransom?

Dr. HAMOUD: Yes. They got into my house, and they took me and they asked for a ransom. And after some negotiations, and it was a happy ending.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: So…

Dr. HAMOUD: But I had to leave the house and the clinic because the area was dangerous at that time.

WERTHEIMER: You mentioned an accident. What was that?

Dr. HAMOUD: The kidnapping.

WERTHEIMER: That's how you talk about it, okay. Well, how is security these days?

Dr. HAMOUD: Well, it's better, but we cannot say it's 100 percent safe.

WERTHEIMER: And what about business? How's business?

Dr. HAMOUD: Well, for the last project I've taken was renovation of a school in the Rashid area that was completed last December. And till now there is no new project.

WERTHEIMER: So you have no new projects so far.

Dr. HAMOUD: No. No.

WERTHEIMER: But are you looking for more business, more things to do?

Dr. HAMOUD: Yes, of course.

WERTHEIMER: I…

Dr. HAMOUD: Because this kind of business, also, I like it. It's exciting time to find myself in other things than dentistry. And since I am succeeding in it, so I'm loving it. And I know my abilities, so I want to take a chance bigger than the abilities I have. So till now things are okay with me.

WERTHEIMER: What sort of effect do to think it has had on what you do, that you're a woman? Has that been an obstacle for you?

Dr. HAMOUD: Maybe being a man would be easier, but for me it was okay. I can manage. You know, our society is, let's say, a little bit conservative. But since we know how to deal with people it's okay.

WERTHEIMER: What do you think will happen to your business as the numbers of U.S. forces decrease? Will that mean less work for you?

Dr. HAMOUD: Of course, if I continue to work with the U.S. forces, of course, it will be less and less. Either I will start to work with the Iraqi ministries. Or maybe I will give up and go back again to dentistry. Maybe it's - things will be okay. Maybe I can be the two, both of them.

WERTHEIMER: Is that what you would like?

Dr. HAMOUD: Well, if it was my choice, of course I would like.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. HAMOUD: I like to be busy all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Dr. HAMOUD: Because it's exciting.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. Warka Hamoud and Mary Terese Marrow, speaking to us from Baghdad. I want to thank you both very, very much for taking the time to talk to us and for telling us your stories.

Dr. HAMOUD: You are welcome, and we thank you, as well.

Ms. MARROW: Okay, thank you.

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