Sweden ups security for Iraq conference

Sweden ups security for Iraq conference
The international community will meet in Stockholm on Thursday to assess the overall situation in Iraq at a conference seen as an important step toward Iraq's long-term stability, but which is not expected to lead to any major accords.

“We cannot expect a major breakthrough. What we are participating in is a process, a process leading to a normalization toward economic and social developments in Iraq,” Swedish state secretary for foreign affairs Frank Belfrage told reporters on Monday.

“Stockholm is one important step in that direction,” he said.

Police in the country have said the conference will be guarded by one of the biggest police deployments in the country in many years, with several demonstrations planned against the US presence in Iraq.

About 100 delegations, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, are expected in Stockholm for the so-called Iraq Compact Annual Review Conference.

The International Compact with Iraq, or ICI, is a five-year peace and economic development plan for the war-torn country, adopted at the May 2007 international conference at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

At that meeting senior officials from more than 60 countries and organizations promised to cancel $30 billion of Iraqi debt.

The Stockholm meeting is the first follow-up conference since Sharm el-Sheik and will be hosted jointly by Iraq and the United Nations.

The complete list of participants will not be finalized before Thursday, according to chief conference organizer Krister Kumlin. He said 500 to 600 delegates were expected as well as about 30 foreign ministers or their deputies.

While the Sharm el-Sheik conference was held amid a sense of urgency to save the country from chaos, the stakes in Stockholm appear less dire.

In the past year, “we have seen the Iraqi government working hard toward reconciliation, regrouping different elements of Iraqi society,” Belfrage said.

“Everything is relative, but we have seen a certain amount of improvement on the security level, and the situation is better today than it was 12 or 18 months ago,” the Swedish diplomat said.

The Iraqi prime minister is expected to ask the international community to deliver on its promises to help rebuild the country, his office said. Maliki would present a report on progress made in the areas of security and national reconciliation.

In Washington expectations appeared limited.

“The basic goal is to try and use the efforts of the international community to be able to support the Iraqi government and its own goals for developing the country,” US Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

Condoleezza Rice was not expected to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who would also attend the meeting, he added.

The gathering will being held on the outskirts of Stockholm in a conference centre, and will likely conclude on Thursday with a final declaration that will “show the way ahead”, Belfrage said.

The question of Iraq’s estimated $140 billion international debt, a large part of which Baghdad would like to see cancelled, is expected to be on the agenda, as well as the issue of refugees.

Sweden is the country in Europe that has welcomed the most Iraqi refugees since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, and currently has an Iraqi community of almost 100,000.