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Iraq: Country To Call On Donor States To Follow Through

By Kathleen Ridolfo

21 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- An Iraqi delegation to the donors conference in Brussels on 22 June is expected to make a hard sell in an effort to persuade donors to follow through with earlier financial commitments. Some $33 billion in grants and loans were pledged to Iraq at the 2003 Madrid donors conference. Iraqi officials estimate, however, that only about 10 percent of the $13 billion in aid pledged by countries other than the United States has actually been delivered.

In order to persuade donors, the transitional Iraqi government will need to convince them that Iraq has a sound program for combating insurgents, and that mechanisms are in place to provide greater transparency and accountability for donor funds.

Iraqis will reportedly not seek new pledges at the conference, which is being billed as a forum for the transitional Iraqi government to present its priorities, vision, and strategies for the transitional period that is slated to end after national elections in December.

An Iraqi Platform

More than 80 countries and international organizations are expected to attend the one-day conference in Brussels, which is co-hosted by the United States and the European Union. Iraqi officials have said that the conference will serve as a platform to address developments in the political and judicial fields, economic reconstruction, and the government's plans to boost security and improve law and order. "For us this conference is not a donor conference," Transitional Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari told reporters on 19 June. "We are not going to give them our wish list, we are going there to give them our vision." Donor countries might be asked to contribute to a "wish list" at the upcoming donors conference that will be held in Amman, Jordan, in July.

For their part, EU officials have taken steps to assure Iraq of their commitment ahead of the Brussels conference. An EU delegation headed by EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and British Foreign Minister Jack Straw traveled to Baghdad in early June to meet with Iraqi leaders ahead of the conference. A second UN-led delegation that included ambassadors from the United States, Denmark, Japan, Turkey, and Switzerland held talks in Baghdad on 18-19 June on coordinating assistance to Iraq ahead of the Brussels conference.

The United Nations has pledged to take a greater role in Iraq's reconstruction. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in an opinion piece published on 21 June on washingtonpost.com that the United Nations has recently set up a donor-coordination mechanism in Baghdad, deployed a constitutional support unit, and undertaken a collaborative relationship with the constitutional drafting committee. He added that some 800 UN local and expatriate staff members are on the ground in Iraq today.

Donors Remain Hesitant

Part of the hesitancy of donor countries to follow through with pledges stems from reports of corruption within the Iraqi government. Reports have circulated for months that corruption is rampant in Iraqi state institutions. There have also been major investigations this year by the United Nations and the U.S. Congress into allegations of corruption within the UN-administered Oil-for-Food Program, and international auditors have questioned accounting practices undertaken by the current government's predecessor, the Iraqi interim government. A March report by Transparency International also cited high levels of corruption within the reconstruction sector. "We have heard from donor countries that they have been reluctant to send us money because of corruption," Deputy National Assembly Speaker Husayn Shahristani told Reuters on 21 June.

The security situation, however, appears to be the biggest obstacle to the implementation of aid. Iraqi officials have suggested that donor countries could work around the issue by initiating reconstruction projects in more secure areas of the country, such as the Kurdish north and in and around Al-Basrah in southern Iraq. Iraqi officials will also call on donor countries to make greater use of local Iraqi contractors. Donor states and NATO will also be asked to contribute more in the training of Iraqi security forces.

Iraqi leaders in Brussels will likely highlight areas of progress and stress their level of commitment to rebuilding their country. For example, both the interim and transitional governments have worked to meet the deadlines laid out under the Transitional Administrative Law, and political parties and leaders have tried to encourage broader participation by Iraq's Arab Sunnis in the political process. Iraqis are also expected to pledge to slash domestic fuel subsidies and impose new taxes, a gesture reportedly aimed at international organizations such as the World Bank, nytimes.com reported on 20 June. That move could spark more turmoil at home, as Iraqis continue to battle unemployment and fuel shortages.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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