Iraq yesterday renewed a call to foreign creditors to cancel about US$60 billion in debts and asked that compensation payments imposed after former president Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait be scrapped.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made the call at an international conference convened in Stockholm to assess progress in a five-year plan to rebuild Iraq.
“Iraq is not a poor country. It possesses tremendous human and material resources, but the debts of Iraq ... which we inherited from the dictator hamper the reconstruction process,” Maliki told the conference.
“We are looking forward to the brother countries writing off its [Iraq’s] debts, which are a burden on the Iraqi government,” he said, a pointed reference to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which are Iraq’s biggest Arab creditors.sThe foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were not present at yesterday’s conference, with junior officials representing both countries. A member of the Iraqi delegation said they were disappointed by the foreign ministers’ absence.
US State Department estimates show about US$66.5 billion of Iraq’s US$120.2 billion in foreign debt has been forgiven.
More than half of the outstanding debt is owed to Gulf Arab states, mainly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa backed Maliki’s call for debt relief saying: “I call upon everybody, including the Arab countries, to accelerate this issue.”
Iraq is pushing for an end to the billions of dollars it pays in compensation for the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
At present it is required to set aside 5 percent of its oil revenues, which Iraq says will amount to US$3.5 billion this year.
The Stockholm meeting is the first annual review of the International Compact with Iraq agreed in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh last year, which committed Iraq to implement reforms in exchange for greater international support.
Opening the conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the Iraqi government for making “notable progress” in meeting economic, political and security benchmarks set at last year’s conference.
Maliki told the conference his government was pushing ahead with plans to hold provincial elections in October, despite the top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, saying last week that November was a more likely date.
In a 75-page progress report to the conference, Iraq stressed it was not looking for money from the international community but for technical help to get its economy back on its feet after decades of wars and sanctions.
Meanwhile, at least 16 people were killed and 18 injured yesterday when a suicide bomber attacked police volunteers near the main police department in Sinjar in Nineveh Province.
The bomber, wearing an explosive vest, blew himself up targeting the police recruits in Sinjar, local police sources told the Voices of Iraq news agency.
The death toll was expected to rise as some people were very seriously injured, said the director of Sinjar hospital, Kifah Mahmud.
In related news, relatives of five British civilian contractors held hostage in Iraq marked the first anniversary of their captivity yesterday.
The men, who worked for a US management consultancy and a Canadian security firm, were abducted in an audacious raid on the Finance Ministry in Baghdad by up to 40 gunmen, some dressed in Iraqi police uniforms.
In interviews and statements yesterday, relatives told of their agony of missing their loved ones.
The Foreign Office has imposed a virtual news blackout on the case, saying that sensitive negotiations for the men’s release are going on behind the scenes.
The kidnappers, who call themselves the Islamic Shiite Resistance in Iraq, have released two videos of the men over the past 12 months.
The Foreign Office said it did not want anything to get in the way of its negotiations, through third parties, to get the men released.