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Officials Gather in Madrid for Iraq Donors Conference

Kuwait promises new funds, raising hopes of additional money from other Mideast nations.

October 23, 2003|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

MADRID — Officials of more than 70 countries began arriving Wednesday to raise money for Iraq, amid indications that the generosity of Middle Eastern states might provide a last- minute boost.

As preparations for the two-day conference were finalized, Kuwait's foreign minister said his country was prepared to substantially increase the $900 million it has already spent to help its northern neighbor.

Sheik Mohammed Sabah al Salim al Sabah, the minister, told reporters that his country would announce "the generous aid we will give Iraq." U.S. officials and United Nations diplomats have said in recent days that they expect other neighboring states, including the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, to announce contributions that will help the donors conference appear successful.

However, it did not appear that the gathering would raise a sum close to the $55 billion that the United States has said would be needed by 2007. Officials in France and Germany again underscored their governments' decisions not to contribute more at a time when Washington has refused to share power over Iraq's reconstruction.

"We don't see any additional aid at this stage, either in terms of financial aid or in cooperation in the military domain," said Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister.

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, Germany's development minister, said her country can't put up more than the $224 million it has pledged, nor would it forgive the billions of dollars in debt that Iraq incurred under Saddam Hussein.

Coming on the eve of the conference, the divergent signals showed that sharp divisions persist over reconstruction, even after the United Nations Security Council voted 15 to 0 last week in favor of greater support for the rebuilding.

Spanish officials, who are among the sponsors of the event, have told Spanish news organizations that the conference will raise at least $22.3 billion. But $15 billion of that money comes from the $20 billion that President Bush has requested from Congress. An additional $4 billion is money the World Bank has proposed to provide in loans.

The conference's supporters are expected to emphasize the pledges to be announced Friday afternoon, even though some of the payments are to be made in later years. Critics say the real question is how much countries will give for 2003 and 2004, not for the years thereafter, when oil-rich Iraq will presumably be stronger -- and may not need help.

Another key question is how much the donors give to the new U.S. authorities overseeing Iraq, and how much to a just-completed "trust fund" that will be monitored by officials of the World Bank and United Nations. Many countries have called for establishment of the trust fund because of their reluctance to give directly to the U.S. authorities; these nations believe that they will not have enough knowledge or say in how U.S. authorities spend donations.

The new trust fund has the strong support of U.S. officials, but if it receives a disproportionate share of donations, many will read such a move as a new sign of international disapproval of the American-led occupation.

Large contributions to the trust fund will also raise difficult questions for the United Nations, because it would suggest that the U.N. needs to increase its involvement on the ground in Iraq. After the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19, U.N. officials have been reluctant to deploy personnel in the more dangerous parts of the country.

America's Iraqi partners are seizing on the conference as an invaluable opportunity to focus international attention on Iraq's needs.

Samir Shakir Mahmoud Sumaiday, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, said that by the time the conference convenes, the decisions on donations will have been made.

"So in a sense, the conference itself will be theater," he said in an interview. "But it's very important theater. It's a chance to showcase the new Iraq. It's an opportunity to bring to the world the dire state in which Saddam Hussein left the country."

Japan has pledged $1.5 billion for 2004 and more for later years. South Korea has agreed to contribute $200 million, and Canada, $150 million.

Spain and Britain, respectively, have pledged $300 million through 2007 and $439 million for 2004 to 2005. The European Union, which includes France and Germany, has limited its contribution for Iraq to one year, promising $233 million.

Germany's contributions include $58 million for direct emergency and humanitarian aid, about $27.4 million for training and supporting Iraqi police, and contributions to EU aid and World Bank loans.

Meanwhile in Iraq, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of coalition forces, said that a recent increase in attacks on Americans was not unexpected and that he believed Hussein's loyalists would become more radical and desperate as their support and capabilities dwindled.

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