Citing Its Resources, Iraq Appeals for Development Partners

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 29, 2008

With its oil and gas reserves in greater global demand than ever, Iraq has sufficient economic resources and "does not require extensive financial assistance," the Iraqi government said yesterday in a report to international backers.

In an upbeat appeal for development partnerships and technical assistance, the report said Iraq offers "a unique opportunity to engage with one of the most resource rich countries in the world." It said oil revenue this year is expected to reach $70 billion and overseas cash reserves will increase to $34 billion.

The report, titled "A New Beginning," comes as Congress has moved to force Iraq to shoulder more responsibility for U.S. war and reconstruction costs, now approaching half a trillion dollars since 2003. Recent legislation has called for Baghdad to pay to train and equip its security forces and to pick up more of the tab for U.S. military operations.

Iraq's finance and development ministries prepared the 75-page report for a conference, called the International Compact with Iraq, being held today in Stockholm. It is the second Compact gathering; at its inaugural session in Egypt last May, the Iraqi government pledged to carry out a five-year package of political and economic reforms in exchange for international support.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters traveling with her to the conference yesterday that Iraq is now a "fully functioning system" that should be rewarded for fulfilling its pledges, the Associated Press reported. Although she acknowledged widespread skepticism remains, Rice said Baghdad has demonstrated it is worthy of increased economic and diplomatic assistance.

"There are a lot of people who are having trouble making the transition in their mind . . . from how Iraq looked in 2007 and how Iraq looks now," she said. Work is still needed on Iraq's security forces, political institutions and problems such as corruption, Rice said, but "the international community needs to stand by Iraq as it moves ahead."

The Bush administration and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have been frustrated by the refusal of Iraq's Arab neighbors, in particular, to restore full diplomatic relations with Baghdad and to forgive its outstanding debt.

"Iraq will always remember the countries that have stood by its side," Maliki wrote in an introduction to the report. He declared that his government's most prominent achievement of the past year was "success in preventing Iraq from falling into civil war and putting an end to displacement" of Iraqi citizens.

Violence in Iraq has reportedly fallen to its lowest level since 2004. Although small numbers of Iraqis displaced by sectarian bloodshed have begun to return home, the International Committee of the Red Cross has estimated that more than 2 million remain internal refugees. An additional 2.4 million are refugees outside Iraq, mostly in Syria and Jordan.

"While the political situation, and by consequence the security situation, remains fragile," the report said, "signals indicate that previous conflict dynamics are moving toward negotiated compromise."

In some respects, the Iraqi report painted a more optimistic picture than that offered recently by U.S. officials. Although it projects that all of the country's 18 provinces will transfer from U.S. to Iraqi government security control this year, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told Congress last week that will not happen. Half of the provinces are currently under Iraqi control.

The report also assured that provincial elections will be held on schedule in October, although Petraeus testified that they will probably be delayed at least until November.

The report noted that the Iraqi parliament has passed some of the legislation promised at the first Compact meeting. It said that Iraq's gross domestic product is expected to grow at 8 percent over the next two years, and that inflation has fallen by two-thirds, to 22 percent.

Inviting foreign investment and technical assistance in a number of sectors, including agriculture and oil, it said that "Iraq is seeking to re-engage with neighbors and the international community on the basis of mutual commitment and benefit."

The Stockholm meeting is "not a pledging conference," the report said. "Iraq is not a poor country: as Iraq enjoys sufficient financial resources it does not require extensive financial assistance. . . . More than ever before, the world economy today needs Iraq's resources, especially oil and gas."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company