Donors start meeting on Iraq reconstruction in Brussels

Brussels (dpa) - Donors from over seventy countries and international organisations opened day-long talks in Brussels Wednesday focusing on rebuilding Iraq's war-shattered economy and still-fragile political institutions.

The meeting, being co-hosted by the European Union and the United States, will allow Baghdad's transitional government to spotlight its vision for the future, officials in Brussels said.

"The conference shows that the international community stands behind Iraq," E.U. External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters.

"Iraq needs our support," she said. "This is a highly significant meeting, not only symbolic."

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the meeting would seek to give some direction to Iraq's reform efforts.

"Europe was divided (over Iraq), now we are unified," Asselborn insisted.

Several of Iraq's neighbours, including Iran and Syria, have sent foreign ministers to the meeting.

Ferrero-Waldner said ahead of the meeting that Iraq's neighbouring nations must back the country's transitional government and help end the insurgency.

"Iraq's neighbours have to really cooperate with the transitional government to make it possible to have a peaceful Iraq," Ferrero-Waldner insisted, adding: "It is important to stop the insurgency."

The meeting is not expected to raise more aid for Iraq. Instead, officials said the focus will be Iraq's efforts at reconstruction, restoring law and order and the drafting of a new constitution.

The Iraqi parliament's 55-member constitutional committee began work on a draft charter on 19 June, with a finished text due in October. This will form the basis for general elections establishing a permanent government in December.

U.S. officials said the Brussels meeting may pave the way for a donor's conference in July and also encourage countries to cut Iraq's massive foreign debt.

The Paris Club of international creditors has already wiped out 32 billion dollars of Baghdad's 40-billion-dollar overdraft, but non-Paris Club debt is estimated at a further 70 billion euros.

Washington hopes that the gathering will also lead to wider diplomatic recognition of Baghdad's new authorities.

The large Iraqi delegation includes transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan are also attending the meeting.

The conference also symbolises transatlantic reconciliation over Iraq following months of acrimony over the U.S.-led war which was opposed by France, Germany, Belgium and other E.U. states. dpa si ch


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