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EU, U.S. rally help for Iraq, urge Sunni inclusion

Reuters | June 22, 2005
By Sebastian Alison and Marie-Louise Moller

BRUSSELS - The United States and the European Union rallied world help for Iraq on Wednesday and urged Baghdad to ensure minority Sunnis help shape its future.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari asked for assistance to fight the Sunni-led insurgency and rebuild the country.

More than 1,000 Iraqis and 120 U.S. troops have been killed since Jaafari's cabinet took office in April, with fresh rebel attacks this week despite a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown.

"We want to achieve economic and political independence and raise the competence of our security forces without turning into a security state," the Shi'ite Muslim politician told delegates from about 80 nations meeting in Brussels.

"The new Iraqi government must continue to improve security, liberalise its economy and open political space for all members of Iraqi society who reject violence," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the conference.

The joint EU-U.S. event is a product of President George W. Bush's trip to Europe in February to mend ties after transatlantic rifts in 2003 over the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Heavy on displays of support for Iraq and unity of purpose between Washington and Brussels, the meeting is exploring practical ways the world can help Iraq, but will leave decisions on aid flows to a donors' meeting in Amman, Jordan, next month.

Iraqi Finance Minister Ali Allawi complained of sparse aid receipts. "The flow of grants and loans from the international community...has not been within the expected levels," he said.

WOOING SUNNIS

The conference communique, according to a text circulated in advance, urged Baghdad to "intensify efforts to engage all parties renouncing violence in the political process".

Sunni Muslim Arabs, about 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, mostly boycotted January 30 elections. The Shi'ite majority and Kurds dominate the transitional government in Baghdad.

The panel charged with drafting a constitution for Iraq by August 15 agreed last week to raise Sunni numbers in the body, a move welcomed as a first step by conference participants.

Iraq's al Qaeda group said Washington was using the meeting to "save itself" from defeat. "The enemies of God gather at the conference in Brussels to destroy Iraq, not to build it," the group led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said in a statement.

U.S. and European leaders steered clear of lingering tensions over the war, such as the continued refusal of France and Germany and other anti-war countries to offer troops.

"A democratic process is taking place that is vital for us, whether you were against the war or not," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters.

The communique urged Iraq and its neighbours to cooperate on frontier security and called on all countries to re-establish or strengthen diplomatic ties with Baghdad. Egypt agreed to send back an ambassador to Baghdad, participants said.

Rice said Syria, in particular, must stop militants using its territory to cross into Iraq.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara accused the United States, without naming it, of denying Damascus sophisticated monitoring equipment that would help it guard the frontier.

"The party preventing Syria from securing the border better is the same one that is strongly criticising Syria," he said.

The conference communique called on Iraq's creditors to give generous debt relief.

Hailing last November's debt relief deal with Paris Club creditor nations, Allawi said Iraq was "well-advanced" in readying proposals with others, including commercial creditors.

He said the transitional government had inherited debts of $125 billion and $50 billion of Gulf War compensation claims.

"What we inherited, after the collapse of the tyranny, was massive indebtedness, a dysfunctional state geared to war and oppression and a hugely distorted and ill-operating economy."

Iraq incurred huge debts under Saddam, mostly to fund its 1980-1988 war with Iran. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait provided much of the war-chest. One conference delegate said Saudi officials had shown readiness to discuss the debt, but made no hard offer.

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