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Iraq: EU Sets Out Aid Priorities For 2004

Brussels, 4 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission today adopted a program of priorities for EU reconstruction assistance to Iraq this year.

The three leading EU objectives are restoring the delivery of key public services, boosting employment and reducing poverty, and strengthening governance and human rights.

Emma Udwin, a commission spokeswoman for external affairs, said today the EU will disburse 160 million euros ($195 million) this year, largely through an international trust fund independent of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority.

"We pushed very hard for that multi-donor trust fund, and this money will be channeled through that fund. How it works is that when our own internal procedures are complete, the money goes into the fund, but we are able to choose how we want it spent. The World Bank, the UN, who run the trust fund, set their own work programs. They're working on that now. And we're able to say, 'We want our money put on this activity, or -- in the case of the UN -- on this project,'" Udwin said.

The commission says its priorities are in line with the conclusions of the joint UN and World Bank needs-assessment study for Iraq.

Under key public services, a commission press release says the EU will focus on trying to bring down the rates of maternal and infant mortality and malnutrition and fight the rise of disease. To do this, the EU will invest in education, both primary and secondary, particularly for girls; health care and immunizations; and increased provisions for clean drinking water and access to sanitation. Under employment and poverty reduction, the EU will support schemes that generate immediate and sustainable local employment, as well as social safety net provisions. Finally, in the field of governance and human rights, the EU will assist in the holding of elections and the reform of the justice system, support free media, and offer training and technical assistance to local and central administrations.

In total, Udwin said, the EU is spending 326 million euros $398 million) in aid and humanitarian assistance in 2003 and 2004 in Iraq.

Udwin today said the "very serious" security situation in Iraq could significantly affect the extent to which the EU and other donors are able to carry out their plans. "Security remains one of the chief constraints on what international donors can achieve for Iraq with the money that has been pledged," she said. "As you know, at the end of last year, we were experiencing some difficulties with humanitarian assistance. It affected a small proportion, but nevertheless did have some impact on what we could roll out. At present, with the package that I'm describing to you now, we're describing the priorities for which it would be used, but it's not yet being spent, so in that sense there is no impact on the 160 million [euros] directly. But clearly, you have to take a step back and say, in the work plans that the UN and the World Bank are developing, the security problems affect what we can realistically plan to achieve."

Udwin said that after this week's deadly bomb attacks in Karbala and Baghdad, it is "hard to talk about an improvement" in the situation. But, she added, it is at this stage similarly hard to talk of a "trend" emerging.

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