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Iraq: In Aid Appeal, UN Officials Cite Looting, Leadership Vacuum

  • Robert McMahon

Top UN humanitarian officials say looting continues to bedevil attempts to repair vital infrastructure in Iraq. They are appealing for an additional $260 million to help provide for Iraqis' basic needs through the end of the year and indicate the country will require extensive reconstruction aid as well. But a delegation of Iraqi technocrats attending meetings at the UN says the country is poised to attract investment, and that they are studying ways to boost the private sector.

United Nations, 24 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- UN officials expect to complete their main humanitarian efforts in Iraq by year's end but say that looting and security problems continue to undermine their attempts to normalize life in the country.

The officials launched an appeal yesterday for $260 million in aid, which is expected to support UN humanitarian programs through December. That comes on top of nearly $2 billion available through an earlier appeal and in money raised by the oil-for-food program.

This funding, the officials said, has helped the country avert a humanitarian crisis. But sustaining stability will be difficult, they said, because of general law and order problems, the weakness of the economy, and an absence of representative Iraqi structures.

Iraq began shipping crude oil on 22 June for the first time since the start of the war, but development experts say revenues in the short term will not be sufficient to meet Iraq's needs.

The UN's humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Ramiro Lopez da Silva, told a donor appeal conference yesterday that key sectors of Iraq's infrastructure, neglected for years, are being further damaged by looting. He later told reporters that the extent of looting damage to the oil sector -- counted on to provide a revenue stream -- has not been properly appreciated.

"The oil sector was as damaged as the other sectors, through the sanctions regime, the wars, the sanctions regime and in the looting phase. We all captured the image of the building of the oil ministry being protected, but the building of the oil ministry does not produce oil. The oil is produced out there in the oil fields, and those oil fields were not protected," Lopez da Silva said.

UN officials say the new funding outlined in their appeal would help provide emergency repairs to water and sewage systems, hospitals, and other facilities damaged by looting.

The United Nations complements the services provided by the U.S.-led coalition, which has administered Iraq since it ousted Saddam Hussein's regime nine weeks ago. Part of the role assigned the UN by Security Council Resolution 1483 is to assist in reconstruction aid efforts and in setting up Iraqi interim bodies.

Lopez da Silva praised the level of cooperation by the Coalition Provisional Authority. But he said rehabilitation efforts are suffering from the lack of an Iraqi civilian administration to address complaints and shape priorities.

He said the United Nations will intensify efforts to identify local Iraqi leaders and maintain a dialogue to help improve services to the country, especially outside of Baghdad. "What you have out there now is 26 [million], 27 million Iraqis without being organized but wishing to express views, so we need to find the platform for us to engage in an organized fashion the broad Iraqi population so we can listen to their aspirations, to their expectations and attempt to interpret those and introduce those in our plans and in our actions," Lopez da Silva said.

Reconstruction will be the focus of a series of informal meetings scheduled for today at UN headquarters. U.S. and British officials are to present plans for reconstruction to interested UN member states and representatives of international financial institutions.

There are no immediate plans to set targets for reconstruction aid, but the meetings are considered important to exchange information on Iraq's needs.

A 12-member delegation of self-described Iraqi technocrats will attend the meetings under the auspices of the Coalition Provisional Authority. At a news briefing yesterday, members of the delegation said their purpose is to signal that "Iraq is back" on the international stage.

The country's acting minister of trade, Fakhridin Rashan, downplayed the impact of looting. He said his ministry's facilities have been looted but that it continues to function and move forward on initiatives to attract investment.

Rashan was director-general of foreign economic relations in the ministry under the regime. He said Iraq needs foreign direct investment to rebuild its infrastructure and that a great deal of interest is already evident. "We've been approached by many companies and countries, whether neighboring countries or else other countries in Europe and the United States, asking to take the risk and invest in Iraq," Rashan said.

A former Polish finance minister, Marek Belka, has been named by the coalition to coordinate donor activity. He told reporters yesterday that it's too early to make final decisions on the privatization of state companies in Iraq. But he made that clear coalition and Iraqi officials are in favor of privatization.

"We want to be pragmatic. We want to proceed with improvement of these companies very early, not waiting for the privatization, so we are thinking of the schemes to apply to these companies before privatization and eventually, and very soon, leading to their privatization," Belka said.

Today's informal meetings on reconstruction will be attended by a number of development officials from main donor nations in Europe and Asia, as well as representatives of UN agencies and international lending bodies.

At the World Economic Forum at the weekend in Jordan, Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa said Arab nations are ready to help with reconstruction in Iraq. He also urged the United States to accelerate the process of transferring political authority to Iraqis.