An international conference on the future of Iraq is under way in Brussels. More than 80 countries and international organizations are present, among them the secretary-generals of the United Nations and NATO, foreign ministers of all EU member states, as well as the United States, and Iraq's neighbors. The event is an opportunity for the Iraqi transitional government to outline its plans for the next few months until the December elections. No new fund pledges are expected. Instead, Iraq's backers will scrutinise Iraqi moves towards political and economic reform, and establishing the rule of law.
Brussels, 22 June 2005 (RFE/RL) - Today's conference serves a twofold objective.
First, Iraq's main backers, headed by the United States, but also major assistance providers such as the EU and NATO are given a chance for a firsthand and in-depth examination of the plans of the transitional government.
Second, Iraq itself hopes to use the occasion to drum up international support for its political and economic reforms.
Speaking to journalists today just ahead of the conference, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said it was a chance for the international community to show unity over Iraq.
"What it [the conference on Iraq] emphasizes and symbolizes is that the international community, having been deeply divided during the course and before the military action, has now come together actively to support the building of a democratic, peaceful and prosperous Iraq," Straw said.
Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari made a dramatic appeal for international support this morning in his address to the conference. Reuters quoted him as saying that Iraq is involved in "a struggle of wills between good and evil."
Al-Ja'fari also said Iraq seeks economic and political independence, and wants to bolster the competence of its security forces "without turning into a security state,"
Key international speakers laid particular stress on Iraq's need to include its various ethnic and religious minorities in the political process.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said during the conference that the country's new constitution must be drawn up in a transparent way that allows maximum participation for all groups.
"Iraqis must come together to draft a new constitution in an inclusive, participatory, transparent process that responds to the demands of all constituencies. Achieving consensus on a new constitution will require compromise, but we have seen that compromise is possible and that it bears fruits," Annan said.
A draft statement seen by RFE/RL says the conference "urges all Iraqis to participate in the political process" and calls on the transitional government to "continue and intensify efforts to engage all parties renouncing violence in the political process, thereby promoting national reconstruction."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said it is an "obligation" for the Iraqi government to continue improving "security, liberalize its economy, and open political space for all members of Iraqi society who reject violence."
Iraq is already receiving renewed assurances of support. The first was delivered last night by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer after he met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari.
"NATO will be represented [at the conference], the deputy secretary-general will be there, I'll be there, and it was clear in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council [yesterday] that there is a continued and strong commitment by the allies [to go] on with the programme under the heading [of] training the Iraqi security forces, equipping the Iraqi security forces, setting up, as you know, the training, education and doctrine center in Al-Rustamiyah in the fall," de Hoop Scheffer said.
The formal hosts of the conference are the EU and the United States, although both emphasize it take place at Iraq's request and is for, not about, Iraq.
A senior EU diplomat, who asked not to be named, said earlier this week no new pledges of funds are expected. A separate donors' conference will be held in mid-July in Amman, Jordan.
A U.S. representative, also requesting anonymity, said that issues of a military nature will not be raised either, adding there are "other fora" for them. The debate on security issues will be limited to planned EU and NATO missions to train law enforcement and security officials.
Instead, the conference focuses on the three main areas outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 1546 on the future of Iraq -- political reforms, reconstruction of the economy, and public order and the rule of law.
The EU diplomat quoted above said Iraqi representatives are expected to make presentations on all three areas, followed by a general debate.
Iraqi Foreign Minister al-Zebari said yesterday that Iraq expects "tangible" contributions from Iraq's audience.
"Tomorrow we are going to lay out our vision, our priorities, our needs to all the participants in the political, economic, justice, the rule of law, and security areas," al-Zebari said. "We hope that the conference will come out with a strong message of political support to the new elected Iraqi government that there would be some follow-up, some tangible results on the pledges of donor countries, of other pledges for training, increased support for the security and justice [system] institutions of our country."
U.S. officials said before the conference they want to encourage countries in the region to establish closer diplomatic relations with Iraq by opening embassies in Baghdad and receiving Iraqi ambassadors.
These calls are bearing fruit. Today, al-Zebari said Egypt had become the first Arab country to appoint an ambassador to Iraq. Egypt, like most other Arab countries, already has an embassy in Iraq, as does Iran. Among others, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have yet to establish a diplomatic presence in Iraq.
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