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Iraq: Donor Conference On Iraq Opens In Japan

Officials from 55 countries and organizations have gathered in Tokyo to discuss international reconstruction funds for Iraq. Japan and the United States today called upon donor countries to not waver in the face of continuing violence in Iraq and to honor pledges they have already made to help rebuild the war-torn country.

Prague, 13 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The two-day Tokyo gathering is the first of its kind since sovereignty was handed over to the Iraqi interim government in June. It is also the third since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Yet beyond vague commitments, none of these meetings has yielded substantial results.

So far, only a few hundred million dollars has been spent out of up to $33 billion in pledges made at a conference in Madrid in 2003.

Japanese officials hope new commitments will be announced in Tokyo, even if the conference is mainly intended to assess how to spend already allocated funds as well as to press donor countries to disburse money they have already pledged.
So far, only a few hundred million dollars has been spent out of up to $33 billion in pledges made at a conference in Madrid in 2003.

Calling on participants for immediate action in Iraq, Japan's Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura recalled how his country was able to rebuild after World War II with the help of international assistance: "I would like to appeal to those countries who have made pledges in Madrid to implement them as quickly as possible and to new donors to contribute to the funds. In addition, I would like to call on all countries engaged in bilateral aid efforts to steadily implement their projects."

Machimura said Japan would set an example by immediately providing $40 million in previous pledges to help Iraq organize legislative elections scheduled for January.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Ahmad Salih in turn urged forgiveness of the $125 billion debt contracted by Saddam Hussein.

"I hope that you regard your support as investment, not charity," Salih said. "It is [an] investment not only in the future of Iraq, but also in the future of our region and, indeed, in the future of the world and its economy."

Salih also pleaded for more support from the United Nations and said the international community must not be misled by media reports of continuing violence -- reports that he claimed "do not reflect the reality in Iraq."

"Iraq lies on the fault lines of the global war on terror. Your support, if it is applied now, will contribute enormously to stabilizing the region. Moreover, it will help the Iraqis throw off the shackles of generations of oppression, genocide, mass graves, corruption, stagnation, and incompetence," Salih said. "The rest of the Middle East and, increasingly, any region that has ancient and [recent] mistrust toward the West, will be watching all of us. Honor your pledges now and show the Iraqi people and the peoples of the Middle East [that] you really care."

Iraqi Planning Minister Madhi al-Hafidh is expected to present the conference with a wish list of more than 300 projects worth at least $34 billion. Most of these projects are reportedly related to infrastructure, job schemes, and training.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage emphasized Iraq's security concerns, saying it needed urgent funds to finance its police force.

"The security situation will only see lasting improvement when Iraq assumes responsibility for self defense," Armitage said. "That is the primary reason why the United States is shifting [its] focus to the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces at this time."

Among the conference participants are France, Germany, and Russia, which strongly opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq and remain critical of U.S. policy there.

None of them is expected to make an individual pledge.

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