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UN: Wealthy States Agree To Plan Autumn Donor Conference For Iraq

  • Robert McMahon

The first UN meetings on reconstruction assistance for Iraq ended with an agreement among the world's wealthy donor nations. UN experts and Iraqi technocrats are to hold a conference on aid this October. Actual pledges will be made at that gathering, but UN officials said that after two days of meetings, key international players appear united in launching the process to help rebuild Iraq. The U.S.-led coalition administering Iraq is eager for multilateral assistance in what is expected to be an enormous reconstruction effort.

United Nations, 25 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- UN officials are hailing a decision by key UN members and the coalition running Iraq to hold a reconstruction conference this October.

No target figures were announced at the end of yesterday's meeting at UN headquarters, which included more than 50 country representatives, UN aid experts, and Iraqi technocrats operating under the auspices of the U.S.-led coalition. But the head of the UN Development Program, Mark Malloch Brown, told reporters the UN meetings signaled some key developments. For one, traditional donor countries that did not support the war to oust Saddam Hussein are to be included in aid-coordination efforts. Also, the Coalition Provisional Authority agreed to provide a projected budget for the year 2004 by the time of the conference.

Brown said some of the participants in this week's meetings continue to differ on the war. But he said delegates are also calling for a "new moment of unity" on Iraq's reconstruction.

"The membership is united around the issue of building as quick as possible an Iraq back on its feet, politically independent under its own government, with the kind of economic potential unleashed that its status as the world's first- or second-biggest oil-reserve country should allow it," Brown said.

The World Bank's regional vice president for the Middle East, Jean-Louis Sarbib, said the meeting appeared to show the international community rallying to support Iraq. He said such support will be crucial because Iraq's reconstruction challenges are immense.

"They are a combination of the challenges of reconstructing an economy which has been damaged not so much by the immediate conflict but by 30 years of economic mismanagement, 30 years of deferred maintenance, 30 years of not paying attention to an infrastructure which is crumbling," Sarbib said.

The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Andrew Natsios, told reporters after an earlier session that he has seen a willingness from a number of national aid officials to become involved in rebuilding Iraq.

"I've been talking with my counterparts -- the development ministers of other countries -- for months now about how we can work together on this. And even for countries that didn't support us on the coalition, there is a general agreement that we want to make this work," Natsios said.

One of the countries that has shown interest in aiding the reconstruction after opposing the U.S.-led war is Canada, which sent a large delegation of aid officials to yesterday's meeting. Canada has already pledged $300 million in humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Iraq.

USAID has provided nearly $800 million in aid so far to Iraq. It is expected to spend nearly two times that amount for further reconstruction projects. Experts have estimated that Iraq's reconstruction costs could be more than $10 billion in the first year alone. That money would be used to repair Iraq's infrastructure after years of war and UN sanctions under the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, has said he expects Iraq to sell about $5 billion worth of oil by the end of the year. But after commissions and payments to a reparations fund to compensate states for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the final sum will be about $3.5 billion.

The chief spokesman for USAID, Jeffrey Grieco, told RFE/RL that the aid effort for Iraq must be multilateral. "Iraq's reconstruction will not happen just by the United States or just by the United Nations agencies participating. It needs to be both a bilateral and a multilateral effort, with the Iraqis participating with the own assets that they have -- in this case being oil-revenue sources -- which can help them leverage financing and raise money for other activities," Grieco said.

UN officials on 23 June launched an appeal for $260 million to cover humanitarian needs through the end of the year, on top of $2 billion in funds already allotted. Iraq's water and sanitation systems are particularly fragile, and UN officials say looting has further slowed efforts at infrastructure repair.

The UN's top aid official in Iraq, Ramiro Lopez da Silva, said at the opening of the conference yesterday that there must be an Iraqi interim administration to lead the reconstruction process. This was repeated by many delegations at the conference.

Lopez da Silva said the Coalition Provisional Authority has taken steps to improve the security situation, especially in Baghdad. But he said there is a widely shared concern among Iraqis about safety, which has restricted commercial activity, school attendance and other normal functions.

Lopez da Silva said this must be overcome to make reconstruction work. "What we need to avoid is that we start developing a mentality of being under siege and that somehow that hampers our ability of contributing to bring normalcy back to the Iraqi life," he said.

Lopez da Silva said that as UN agencies begin carrying out assessments of Iraqi needs in the months leading up to the aid conference, they should be aware of key differences from other recent postconflict situations. He said there are numerous skilled Iraqis in both the public and private sector who can contribute significantly to reconstruction.

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