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The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to map out a strategy using science, technology and innovation (STI) for developing Iraq's economy.

The memorandum of understanding was signed at a ceremony in Geneva last week (1 September) by Iraqi Minister of Science and Technology Raid Fahmi and UNCTAD Secretary General Supachai Panitchpakdi.

Samir Raouf, Iraq's deputy minister of science and technology, says the agreement "will focus on reviewing key sectors in Iraq's economy and evaluate science and technology institutions and policies and how effective they are in promoting innovation in these sectors… This approach would make use of the experience of other countries in the development of Iraq".

Under the agreement, a science, technology and innovation policy (STIP) review will be undertaken by the UNCTAD secretariat and the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development in partnership with government officials, the private sector and scientists in Iraq.

The review will provide policy support to the Iraqi government in the design of national STI systems and improve links in industry between small and medium-sized enterprises, larger firms and science and technology institutions.

The review will establish a technological database of science-based companies in Iraq and a directory of technologists. It will also identify measures to improve the dissemination of information for technology transfer, develop technological capabilities, innovation and competitiveness through setting up a science and technology network as well as identifying and evaluating new and emerging science and technology sectors for Iraqi research.

Sattar Sadkhan Almaliky, head of scientific affairs and public relations at Babylon University in Iraq and director of the Iraqi Academic Committee, says building scientific infrastructure must be given top priority as most universities and research institutions in war-torn Iraq that will implement the strategy are not fully operational.

Princess Nisreen El-Hashemite, executive director of the Royal Academy of Science International Trust, told SciDev.Net that the STI strategy should be linked to Iraq's education initiative to provide the necessary workforce for science-based industrial development (See Iraq puts forward ambitious higher education plan)

She adds that science parks should be established to help promote the culture of innovation and competitiveness among businesses and knowledge-based institutions, and facilitate the development of innovative spin-off companies.