The fledgling transitional government of Iraq won a rhetorical show of support -- but relatively minor offers of help -- at an international conference Wednesday attended by diplomats from more than 80 countries and international organizations.
The gathering, sponsored by the United States and the European Union, was the diplomatic equivalent of a pep rally, designed to demonstrate that the Iraqi government had its own plans and aspirations and that the transatlantic rift over the war was finally healed. The meeting was also intended as a signal to Iraq's Arab neighbors to end their distrust of the Shiite Muslim-dominated government and, in the words of one diplomat, "get with the program."
The Iraqi government faces tremendous challenges as it seeks to write a constitution, strengthen its economy and battle an insurgency that is killing scores of people every week. International support has been weak: Iraq has received only a fraction of the $13 billion in aid pledged at a conference nearly two years ago. But Iraqi and U.S. officials expressed hope that the symbolic backing Iraq received at the conference would translate into substantial aid to help write the constitution, train Iraqi troops and fund reconstruction projects.
A communique endorsed by all conference attendees "resolved to support" the government and welcomed its "vision and strategy" for the future.
"Today was a good day for Iraq," the country's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, told reporters at the end of the conference. "The differences over the war are behind us now. We are looking toward the future."
Al Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent group led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian, issued a statement denouncing the meeting and declaring that "the enemies of God gather at the conference in Brussels to destroy Iraq, not to build it."
The meeting had not been billed as a donors conference, but U.S. officials monitoring the meeting described a grab bag of assistance announced by 37 countries and international organizations, including substantial debt relief from China, a pledge of $40 million from Denmark, police training from Slovenia, cooperation in the petroleum sector from Norway and a program of lectures and seminars on democracy from Turkey. The European Union, as previously announced, pledged a $130 million package to assist in writing a constitution and overhauling government ministries.
A series of speakers urged the Iraqi government to reach out to its Sunni Muslim minority, believed to make up about 20 percent of the population, which largely boycotted national elections in January. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while appealing for nations to stand with the "brave people of Iraq," warned that Iraq had "obligations of its own," including continuing to "improve security, liberalize its economy and open political space for all members of Iraqi society who reject violence."
Other speakers and the communique echoed those sentiments.
Zebari, an ethnic Kurd, said in his opening remarks that the government had "spared no effort to reach out and engage all who renounce violence." He said the government was "resolutely committed" to meeting the Aug. 15 deadline for writing a new constitution but needed "expert advice" from other countries and the United Nations.
Iraqi officials pressed their Arab neighbors to become more involved in rebuilding efforts. Egypt announced that it would name an ambassador to Baghdad, making it the first Arab country to appoint such a high-level diplomat, and Jordan said it would send one soon.