Promised international aid to Iraq is slow in appearing

Of $13 billion pledged last year, only $1 billion has been turned over

July 14, 2004|By Paul Richter | Paul Richter,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Amid continuing efforts by the Bush administration to build international support for its mission in Iraq, allied countries have provided only a small fraction of the reconstruction aid they promised at a conference nine months ago.

Of the $13 billion in non-American aid pledged, only about $1 billion has been turned over to the United Nations and World Bank funds set up to take in most of the donations, U.S. and international aid officials said. Almost half the money, $490 million, is from a single donor, Japan.

The shortfall is a source of growing frustration for officials of Iraq's new interim government, who had hoped that the U.S. handover of sovereignty two weeks ago would result in a flow of cash from European nations opposed to the U.S. occupation and wealthy Arab neighbors - two groups that have long been generous donors.

Officials with the new government have begun to complain about the tardiness of the financial aid, as well as the reluctance of Iraq's creditors to follow through on promises to forgive some of the country's $120 billion debt. Iraqi officials fear that their frail economy will not be able to recover unless the debt burden is eased.

Rend Rahim, Iraq's ambassador to the United States, said the aid provided "is much, much lower than what Iraq was promised. ... We shouldn't be set adrift, on our own."

Rahim also told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington on June 29 that "so far, we do not have any serious pledges for the reduction of Iraqi debt."

She criticized countries that have been unwilling to forgive more than a small portion of the debt, saying they "really want their pound of flesh."

Some foreign policy analysts said they believe the slow pace of donations and debt forgiveness partly reflects the reluctance of European and other allies to be seen as agreeing with the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, particularly when it could give a pre-election boost to President Bush.

"The reluctance to turn over the cash dovetails with the way the whole war has played out," said Steven A. Cook, a fellow at Council for Foreign Relations in New York. "Even though this is for a humanitarian cause, they feel like they would be, in a way, legitimizing the Bush administration's invasion."

Blunting charges

U.S. officials have been seeking to emphasize allied support as a way of blunting Democrats' charges that the Bush administration has damaged relations with traditional U.S. allies, some analysts say.

Administration officials have said in recent weeks that allies who differed with them on the war have now closed ranks in the effort to restore Iraq.

"The bitter differences of the war are over," Bush said during a summit with European Union officials June 26. "There is a common interest and a common goal to work together to help the Iraqi people."

One State Department official defended the pace of donations, saying that it is "pretty good in the first year of a four-year program. ... This is a process that hopefully will build momentum."

He said some donors have delayed giving because they think Iraq's shaky security situation could make it impossible to spend the money.

Nevertheless, the administration has been concerned enough that in May, on the eve of a second Iraq donors conference in Qatar, U.S. and Iraqi officials issued a new appeal for funds.

"I urge you to disburse your pledges quickly, and I hope that your governments will consider additional assistance," U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell urged coalition partners May 20. Japanese and American officials disclosed plans last month for a third donors conference, to be held in October in Tokyo.

Another U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the reluctance of some European countries to contribute continued a pattern begun before the war, when some countries that opposed the invasion resisted an appeal by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for money to avert a feared refugee crisis.

The Madrid conference last October was hailed at the time by U.S. officials as a major accomplishment. "Any way you look at it, the conference was an enormous success," Treasury Secretary John W. Snow said as the meeting concluded.

Late last year, the United Nations and World Bank each set up funds to receive donations. To date, the U.N. fund has received about $600 million and the World Bank fund about $400 million, officials said.

As part of the $13 billion, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund pledged $5.5 billion in loans at the Madrid conference. Officials of the two organizations say that, with the return of sovereignty to Baghdad, they are preparing to make some of that money available.

Countries also were invited in Madrid to donate directly to Iraq. But only the United States and Japan have contributed any money directly, Rahim said.

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