Iraq’s deputy prime minister on Wednesday called on the international community to increase the flow of aid and speed up the implementation of projects to help rebuild the war-torn country.
“The support of the international donor community will be the catalyst for turning the vicious cycle of poverty and terrorism into a virtuous circle of economic growth, tolerance and peace,” Barham Salih said in a keynote speech in Tokyo to the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq. “Iraq lies on the fault lines of the global war on terror.”
Representatives from 53 countries and four international organizations were in Tokyo to attend the two-day donor meeting.
Salih, who headed the Iraqi delegation, noted that health care, water and sanitation, education and housing are the priorities in the social sector in need of urgent assistance from the international society.
Iraq is suffering from a shortage of doctors and other health-care professionals, with many having fled the country. Iraq’s literacy rate is declining, and there is a shortage of 1.5 million basic housing units, he said.
The deputy prime minister said Iraq will concentrate its capital on the oil sector, which comprises 94 percent of its revenue. Iraq currently produces about 250 million barrels per day, of which some 200 million barrels per day are exported.
“Iraq has the potential to be an economic powerhouse for our region — the Japan of the Middle East perhaps,” he said.
Salih said the government was determined to hold parliamentary elections in January as planned, despite fears that they may be delayed.
He also asked Iraq’s creditors to waive some $125 billion in outstanding debt so that Iraq can use its financial resources to cover pressing economic, social and security needs.
Despite promising words by Iraqi ministers, doubts remain among donor countries over whether the interim government can actually bring insurgent attacks under control and commit to the scheduled political process.
Violence in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq continue to make headlines and foreign civilians are often taken hostage.
The security situation has remained unstable even after the June handover of sovereignty from U.S.-led occupation forces in Iraq.
During a news conference after the day’s meeting, Ross Mountain, deputy special representative of the U.N. Secretary General for Iraq, hinted that Iraq’s failure to get the security situation under control has led to the slow implementation of aid.
“Much has been achieved, although not all that we had hoped, due to the limitations that were placed on us by the security situation,” he said.
Akio Shirota, Japan’s ambassador in charge of reconstruction assistance to Iraq, admitted that there was a “candid exchange of words” during the closed sessions in the afternoon, though did not elaborate.
But Mehdi Hafedh, Iraqi minister on planning and development cooperation, stressed that the meeting was not a “pledging conference,” apparently trying to play down the lack of momentum among participants in terms of offering fresh aid to his country.
“Most nations are hesitant to offer further aid considering the current security situation in Iraq and are doubtful that the current administration will be able to carry out the political process,” said a senior Foreign Ministry official who asked not to be named. “But is there any other way to promote the reconstruction process?”
Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, host of the meeting, pledged Japan’s continued assistance for Iraq’s reconstruction and said Tokyo would speed up the processing of yen loans.
Machimura also announced his intention to earmark $40 million in ministry money for a trust fund to help carry out Iraq’s election in January.
Meanwhile, Iran told the gathering that it will offer $10 million to the fund, with the European Commission and South Korea indicating their intention to provide additional aid to the fund next year, according to the chairman’s summary of the meeting.
Aid coming: Armitage
Richard Armitage, U.S. deputy secretary of state, said Wednesday the U.S. will step up efforts to disburse $18.4 billion in aid to Iraq.
“We took longer than it was necessary to get our act together prior to turning over sovereignty,” Armitage told a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
A total $1.4 billion has been dispersed to date.
The U.S. had disbursed $400 million before authorities of the U.S.-led coalition turned over sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government in June. Armitage said it has disbursed a further $1 billion in the past three months.
He said about $400 million a month is being disbursed from the supplemental budget. The money is being used to hire Iraqi firms and in turn increase local employment, he said.
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