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Rice urges world to speed aid to Iraq

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07:36 CEST+02:00
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday urged the world community to seize on improved security in Iraq to accelerate aid for agriculture, housing and other projects in the country.

Rice, travelling to the Swedish capital Stockholm for an international conference on Iraq, suggested that countries could no longer use security threats as an excuse for not following through on pledges of aid.

"With the improved security situation it ought to be possible to make more progress on some of the pledges that were made for project and technical assistance," Rice told accompanying reporters before her plane landed.

Rice arrived in the Swedish capital for the so-called Iraq Compact Annual Review Conference on Thursday, grouping Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and about 100 delegations.

The International Compact with Iraq, or ICI, is a five-year peace and economic development plan for the war-torn country, adopted at a May international gathering 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.

Rice said on Wednesday she was optimistic that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait would ease Iraq's debts even though visits last month to Iraq, Bahrain and Kuwait produced no concrete Gulf Arab commitments on debt relief.

But she put the stress now on having the world community offer Iraq technical and other aid to help revive its agriculture sector, build homes and establish a fair justice system.

The conference will be a chance to review "pledges that have been made -- some of which people said could not be executed because of the security situation," Rice said without identifying individual countries.

She added that "with the improved security situation, (the world community ought) to accelerate the execution of those projects. It's not a matter of needing new pledges."

The United States attributes improved security in Iraq to a recent "surge" or reinforcements of US troops as well as to improved performance by the Iraqi

security forces.

Rice said the situation in Iraq is "fundamentally different" from when the international bargain with Iraq was struck more than a year ago in Egypt.

Not only has security improved, but Iraq has an "increasingly functional parliament" which has passed budgets as well as landmark legislation on a political amnesty, political reconciliation and provincial elections, she said.

And Iraq is slowly being reintegrated into the rest of the world, she said, citing Iraq's relations with the UN, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.

Wary Arab neighbours are also normalizing ties with Iraq, she said.

"Now you're talking about the process of bringing (Arab) embassies in. Yes, that will happen. But you already have had multiple visits of Iraqi leaders to the region," she said.

A senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity that Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain were taking steps towards establishing a diplomatic presence in Iraq.

No Arab country has had a permanent diplomatic mission in Baghdad in the last three years, not just because of security risks but apparently because of the Iraqi government's perceived tilt towards non-Arab and Shiite Iran.

But the official said Arab states have been encouraged by the Shiite-led Iraqi government's recent crackdown on Shiite militias as well as motivated by a need to check Iranian-backed power plays in Lebanon.

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