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    Iraq's progress praised as Baghdad seeks debt relief

    30.05.2008 - 11:12 | Son Güncelleme:

    World leaders, including U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, praised progress in Iraq as Baghdad appealed for debt relief at a Stockholm conference on Thursday.

    "Iraq is stepping back from the abyss that we feared most," Ban said in a speech, adding that with international help the war-torn country could fulfill its "vision of becoming a free, secure, stable and prosperous nation".


    He cautioned however that "the situation remains fragile". 


    Some 100 delegations took part in the one-day conference in Stockholm hosted by Ban and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and attended by Rice, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband among others.


    Rice said that while Iraq was "making good progress there remain challenges. Not everything that needs to be accomplished has been accomplished."


    Miliband was also optimistic and noted that at the conference, "instead of talking about the last five years every speaker has talked about the next five years, and that is a really profound change of perspective."


    Their comments came as two suicide bombings targeted police and security forces in northern Iraq, killing at least 20 people and wounding another 42, officials said.


    The attacks shattered a relative calm, after the U.S. military said violence across the nation had hit a four-year low last week.


    And Turkish warplanes bombed 16 Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq, the latest in a series of air strikes targeting the region since December, the Turkish army said.


    In Stockholm, Maliki stressed that great progress had been made toward creating long-term stability in all areas, and asked world leaders "to end the international sanctions that were imposed on Iraq because of the previous regime and to write off debts." He added country was not poor, thanks to its rich oil resources, but said the debt was weighing down reconstruction efforts.


    According to the Iraqi government, Iraq’s total debt, excluding interest, is some $140 billion, including $10 billion owed to Saudi Arabia and a little less to Kuwait.


    Iraq’s debt has been reduced by $66.5 billion, U.S. State Department figures show.


    Rice urged the world community and especially Iraq’s Arab neighbors to re-establish diplomatic ties with Baghdad. "I encourage everyone to increase their diplomatic, economic, social and cultural engagement with the people of Iraq," she said.


    "We especially urge Iraq’s neighbors and friends to strengthen these ties through official visits to Iraq, the reopening of embassies and consulates and the appointment of ambassadors," she said, adding that Iraq could do its part by "appointing Iraqi ambassadors to Arab countries."


    The Stockholm conference was the first follow-up meeting since the International Compact with Iraq, a five-year peace and economic development plan, was adopted in Egypt in May 2007.


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


    In one of the few signs of criticism at the upbeat meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki fired a salvo at the United States, saying the major security problems remaining in Iraq were "due to mistaken policies by occupiers in Iraq". "Security in Iraq is now so grave that it has cast a shadow over" the lives of all Iraqis, he added.


    Swedish and U.S. officials said they expected no major breakthroughs at the conference, noting that it was aimed at reviewing the progress being made.


    The gathering, which was to close on Thursday evening with a final declaration of support, came as former White House spokesman Scott McClellan charged in his memoir "What happened" that the U.S. public had been misled into "an unnecessary war".


    He accused top Bush aides of sidelining inconvenient truths in their rush to sell the war against Saddam Hussein, a charge Rice categorically rejected.

    Photo: AFP



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