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Iraqi PM calls for more aid at Stockholm conference

Latest update : 2008-05-29

Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki appealed for more aid and urged the cancellation of debt at an international conference. Host country Sweden and the US played down the idea that the meeting could lead to major new initiatives. (M-N.Bauer)

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday praised progress being made in Iraq, as Baghdad requested more support for its reconstruction efforts at a conference here to assess its most pressing needs.

"Iraq is stepping back from the abyss that we feared most," Ban said in a speech, adding that with international help the war-torn country could fulfill its "vision of becoming a free, secure, stable and prosperous nation."

He cautioned however that "the situation remains fragile."

Some 100 delegations took part in the one-day conference in Stockholm hosted by Ban and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and attended by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice among others.

"What Iraq expects from the international community is its assistance in building and reconstruction efforts, sharing experiences, providing training and also helping in the rehabilitation of various sectors which have suffered from wide neglect," Maliki said in a statement.

Rice, speaking on the eve of the conference, urged the world community to seize on improved security in Iraq to accelerate aid for agriculture, housing and other projects in the country.

She said countries could no longer use security threats as an excuse for not following through on pledges of aid.

"With the improved security situation it ought to be possible to make more progress on some of the pledges that were made for project and technical assistance," Rice said.

The conference was the first follow-up meeting since the International Compact with Iraq (ICI), a five-year peace and economic development plan, was adopted in Egypt in May 2007.

At that meeting senior officials from more than 60 countries and organisations promised to cancel 30 billion dollars of Iraqi debt.

According to the Iraqi government, Iraq's total debt, excluding interest, is some 140 billion dollars, including 10 billion dollars owed to Saudi Arabia and a little less to Kuwait.

A spokesman for the Iraqi government, Ali al-Dabbagh, told AFP that Baghdad was "not happy with the support that we have gotten from those who attended Sharm el-Sheik."

"We expect that this conference will (give the) initiative for them to participate more, to support more, to play a bigger role in Iraq," he said.

Sweden, which has taken in some 40,000 Iraqi refugees since the 2003 US invasion and was organising the conference, said it was willing to do its share.

"We stand ready to support the government of Iraq and all Iraqis in the quest for a sovereign and democratic united and prosperous country," Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said as he opened the conference.

He stressed however that it was "the (Iraqi) government's responsibility to ensure that all Iraqis can enjoy their human rights," pointing out that "women and minority groups continue to be targeted by violence and face serious difficulties in seeking and obtaining legal redress."

Swedish and US officials have said that no major breakthroughs were expected at the conference.

The gathering, which was to close on Thursday evening, came as former White House spokesman Scott McClellan charged in his memoir "What happened" that the US public had been misled into "an unnecessary war."

The former aide said that history and the US public seem to agree that the March 2003 invasion "was a serious strategic blunder" and accused top Bush aides of sidelining inconvenient truths in their rush to sell the war against Saddam Hussein.

Rice reiterated the Bush administration's defence against a long litany of such charges.

"It was not the United States of America alone that believed he had weapons of mass destruction," Rice told reporters.

Date created : 2008-05-29