Madrid, Oct. 23 (Reuters): The UN and Iraq’s governing council appealed to wealthy nations today to dig deeper in their pockets to raise the $55 billion needed to rebuild a country torn by years of war, sanctions and neglect.
UN secretary-general Kofi Annan opened a two-day donors’ meeting with a call for more cash and a warning that wrangling between the US and its critics over a timetable for handing sovereignty back to Iraqis could lead to more suffering.
Hours earlier, a leading British aid agency accused Iraq’s US and British administrators of failing to account for at least $4 billion meant to go towards rebuilding the country.
“I appeal to donors to give and to give generously and for those contributions to be provided in addition to existing commitments,” Annan told the Madrid meeting.
“We all look forward to the earliest possible establishment of a sovereign Iraqi government but a start on reconstruction cannot be deferred until that day,” he added.
Conference sponsors have been careful not to set a target, but behind the scenes delegates spoke of arm-twisting of countries reluctant to stump up the billions Iraq needs.
So far $2-3 billion has been pledged in addition to the $20 billion the US plans to contribute over 18 months. Some countries that opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq are reluctant to pay with France, Germany and Russia promising no money beyond what they already have pledged.
“There have been last-minute attempts to ramp up the money and all the pressure has been on the EU,” said a senior official accompanying the Iraqi delegation. British Prime Minister Tony Blair added his voice to the calls for funds. But a German official said more money would not be forthcoming until Berlin could be sure its aid would be properly accounted for.
AID GROUP SAYS $4 BILLION MISSING
Britain's Christian Aid said the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) had not publicly detailed cash flows since ousting Saddam Hussein in April.
All but $1 billion of more than $5 billion of Iraqi funds had disappeared into a“financial black hole”. It said the figures were a conservative estimate of oil revenues collected by the CPA since the war, prewar oil revenues from the U.. ”oil-for-food” account and seized assets of Saddam's government.
The U.S.-led CPA has denied it has failed to account for the money.
Christian Aid said failure to account for the money would fuel suspicion that funds were going to U.S. firms given contracts to rebuild the country.
Iraqis did their best to persuade more than 300 companies and business groups gathered alongside the politicians that Iraq could be prosperous once again, if given help.
”I don't want to depict a gloomy picture. But we need a kickstart, we need to be given a helping hand,” said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a representative of the Iraqi Governing Council.
Thousands of Iraq's 26 million people lack everything from access to clean water to basic security, he said.
Help would allow a country with the world's second largest oil reserves to restructure into a lucrative market for entrepreneurs, Iraqi Trade Minister Ali Allawi said, adding Iraq could be self-sustaining in five to eight years.
The World Bank and United Nations studied 14 sectors of Iraq's economy and estimated they need $36 billion over four years. A report by the CPA found an additional $19.4 billion is needed to rebuild sectors not covered in the World Bank report.
For the EU External Relations Commissioner, the conference was an opportunity to bring Iraq back into the developed world.
”In the early 80s Iraq had a GDP per head the same as Australia's. Two decades of Saddam Hussein then reduced it to the same sort of figure as the Congo. So it just indicates the potential resources of Iraq...,” Chris Patten said. (Additional reporting by John Chalmers, Daniel Trotta, Mona Megalli, Emma Ross-Thomas and David Chance in Madrid)