Thu, Oct 23, 2003 - Page 7 News List

US, Iraq hope for financial aid from donors' conference

AFP , BAGHDAD

US overseer Paul Bremer and Iraqi officials were counting yesterday on the Madrid donors' conference to bring financial aid to help rebuild after decades of war and neglect under former president Saddam Hussein.

The conference, to be attended by a 100-strong delegation from Iraq, seeks US$36 billion dollars for the nation's ravaged infrastructure.

The funds are key to bringing long-term stability to a country where US forces come under daily fire from Saddam loyalists and now face a threat from Shiite fundamentalists.

"I think we're going to have a successful conference at Madrid. I think we'll find that a number of countries will make important contributions," Bremer said late on Tuesday, ahead of his departure for Spain.

"I think we'll find the international financial institutions will come forward, with pretty good contributions."

Although the World Bank and the UN estimate reconstruction needs through 2007 at US$36 billion dollars, opponents of the US-led war against Saddam, France, Germany and Russia, are shunning any large-scale contribution, dimming expectations for the conference.

The bulk of aid still looks to come to Iraq in the form of a US$20.3 billion US aid package.

But in defiance of a White House veto threat, the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to seek conversion of half the package into a loan, following the example of the Senate last week.

Bremer issued a direct plea to France on Tuesday, urging Paris to come in from the cold.

"I think it would be a sad thing if the French government could not find a way to participate in the reconstruction," he said.

"I think it's time for them to get beyond all of these discussions that took place back in February and March. It's time for them to recognize that we're going to reconstruct Iraq.

"There is a role for France and other great countries to play here," he said.

While Iraq has the world's second largest oil reserves, estimated at 112 billion barrels, its basic infrastructure atrophied under dictatorship, 13 years of sanctions and the war.

Ahead of the conference, Governing Council member Samir Sumaidy said Iraq's public institutions badly needed funding if the transition to democracy was to succeed.

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