U.S. meets resistance on postwar aid

Other nations angered by Bush actions in Iraq

War In Iraq

April 12, 2003|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - With tempers still short from United Nations debates before the war, the United States is running into difficulty getting other wealthy countries and international financial institutions to contribute the large sums required to help Iraq recover and rebuild.

Amid a broad humanitarian crisis and breakdown of order after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, the United States and Britain are anxious to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that their future will be bright than the past three decades under Baathist rule.

Having lost their soldiers and borne the full costs of the war, both countries want the international community to share in the cost of rebuilding Iraq, as it has previously after U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Estimates range from $20 billion to $100 billion.

But other countries have been slow to respond. Still angry over President Bush's decision to go to war without Security Council approval, they also resent the way the United States has taken charge of postwar Iraq and refused to accept the strong United Nations role in the country that many other countries have demanded.

"It's going to be tricky," said James F. Dobbins, a former U.S. special envoy who played a key role in postwar recovery in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia. "Burden-sharing is always difficult. It's a trade-off between control and participation."

Key to international help are France, Germany and Japan, which are not only major aid donors but wield influence in the two major financial institutions, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

How those institutions help Iraq rebuild will be a key subject of meetings this weekend of finance ministers from the Group of 7, the world's major industrialized countries. For the moment, they are noncommittal.

World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn said Thursday that the bank's involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq was restricted by United Nations sanctions, and that even an early technical assessment of Iraq's needs might require a new U.N. resolution. U.S. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow said afterward he was "baffled" by Wolfensohn's statement.

The IMF's managing director, Horst Kohler, insisted in an interview with London's Financial Times that the fund would not act without broad political backing.

"We need legitimacy, and I hope after war has ended that this legitimacy is there so we can act," he said.

Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense who was a leading advocate for the war, has surprised France, Germany and Russia by calling for them to write off billions of dollars in debt accumulated in the past by Saddam Hussein's regime.

"I hope for example they'll think about the very large debts that come from money that was lent to Saddam Hussein to buy weapons and to build palaces and to build instruments of repression," Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, which holds $8 billion to $12 billion in Iraqi debt, said yesterday that he was willing to consider the debt-forgiveness proposal, which he called "understandable and legitimate." But he said it should be discussed by the G-7 countries and Russia at a summit in June. Earlier, a Russian Finance Ministry official said Iraq should pay its debts.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said "a legitimate government should be in place" in Iraq before the idea could be considered.

A diplomat from France, a country to which Iraq owes $5 billion to $7 billion, noted that much of the debt was accumulated during the Iran-Iraq war when the United States joined other countries in supporting Iraq.

Speaking of this weekend's G-7 meetings, the French diplomat said, "Foreign countries don't come to these kinds of meetings with preset positions. Issues are discussed, and settled by consensus."

Continued tension among the major countries was evident Thursday during a U.N. Security Council meeting over the future of the oil-for-food program, the U.N.-run program that supervises the sale of Iraqi oil and uses the proceeds to supply Iraq with civilian goods.

At the meeting, diplomats said, Russia, France and China, which together possess the bulk of Iraqi contracts, pressed for their supplier companies to be paid for past orders, even though delivery is being delayed in favor of urgently needed humanitarian goods.

Other countries, including Britain, are eager to make sure that lucrative reconstruction projects don't go just to American companies.

U.S. officials hope that Iraq will emerge as a modern, wealthy country, about to tap the world's second-largest oil reserves for the benefit of its 23 million people. But it may be a couple of months before oilfields are able to pump again, and require substantial new investments before Iraq is able to pump and sell oil at its full capacity.

And once the oil resumes flowing, most of the revenues will likely go to paying for humanitarian needs, not rebuilding, Dobbins said.

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