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Iraq: International Conference Opens With Appeals For Support

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he's hopeful for Iraq, despite its numerous challenges (AFP) Delegates from nearly 100 countries and organizations are meeting amid tight security outside the Swedish capital, Stockholm, to discuss the rebuilding and development of Iraq.

The meeting is the first-annual review of a five-year plan launched last year to help bring economic growth and political stability to Iraq. It comes as the Unites States says violence in Iraq is at its lowest level in more than four years.

Issues on the agenda include Iraq’s debt relief, economic reconstruction, elections, corruption, the oil industry, and the refugee crisis. More than 500 participants in the conference also are expected to look into ways of integrating more Sunnis into Iraqi government structures.

Major figures attending the conference include UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

'Accelerate' Efforts

Speaking at a news conference with Reinfeldt, Rice urged the international community to reward Iraq with developmental aid for its efforts to improve security and enact political reforms.

"This isn't a donor conference. The Iraqis don't need large sums of money," Rice said. "They do need large infusions of technical assistance, project support, helping to build adequate police forces, helping to build an adequate justice system, helping to build the capacity to execute their large budgets down to the provincial and the local levels. These are the kinds of things that -- now that the security situation is improving -- I would hope the international community would accelerate its efforts to help make Iraq a capable state."

Reinfeldt called on the world community to support rebuilding efforts.

"We stand ready to support the government of Iraq and all Iraqis in the quest for a secure, sovereign, democratic, united, and prosperous country, where the human rights of all are fully respected," Reinfeldt said.

Al-Maliki is expected to push for relief from debt dating back to Saddam Hussein's regime. Reports say Iraq has at least $67 billion in foreign debt, most of it owed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. Al-Maliki has said Iraq also wants countries to reopen their embassies in Baghdad.

One Word: 'Hope'

In comments made at the summit, Ban acknowledged that Iraq still faces major challenges, but he said there is hope for reconciliation among its peoples.

"The Iraqi people continue to suffer from acts of terrorism, sectarian violence, and criminality," Ban said. "Many endure forced displacement and human rights violations, especially women and minorities. Essential services are still sorely lacking. Nonetheless, if we were asked to use just one word to describe the situation today, I would choose the word 'hope.’ "

Sunnis prevailed in politics under Hussein's rule but were relegated when his regime was toppled in 2003. The majority Shi'a and Kurds have since dominated the government, while Sunnis make up the bulk of the insurgency. There are ongoing efforts to further integrate Sunnis into Iraqi politics.

On the eve of the conference, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said efforts are under way to agree on a date for local elections aimed at decentralizing power.

compiled from agency reports

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