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U.S. Plans Donors Conference on Iraq

Even before issuing a formal declaration of victory in Iraq, the Bush administration is laying plans for an international donors conference to raise money for Iraq's rebuilding.

Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's budget chief, said in an Associated Press interview Tuesday that the administration has no current estimate of how many billions of dollars it will take to reconstruct the country, which has been damaged by more than a decade of United Nations sanctions.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (more news | Web) said Monday the war is not over yet, but more U.S. warplanes are headed home even as ground troops prepare for a longer stay to stabilize the country.

A first group of about 10 F-15E Strike Eagles will return to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., on Wednesday, and F-15C and F-16Cs are due back at other U.S. bases Thursday and Friday, Air Force officials said. B-2 bombers and F-117A stealth fighters already have returned.

Two of the five Navy aircraft carriers that participated in the war left the region last week.

Zakheim said a number of countries already are providing or pledging assistance for the earliest stages of stabilizing Iraq and laying a foundation for rebuilding its oil-based economy.

The United Arab Emirates, for example, is contributing a water purification system for Baghdad, and Spain has promised to provide armed peace officers, which he described as constables. Eventually an international constabulary of several thousand officers will be needed, he said.

Zakheim said France, Germany and Russia — countries that strongly opposed President Bush's decision to invade Iraq — have not yet offered assistance. He would not say whether they would be welcomed as investors in Iraq's future.

Zakheim said he believed there will be more international interest in investing in Iraq's reconstruction than in the case of Afghanistan, which has less appealing prospects for economic revitalization. The initial donors conference on Afghanistan produced pledges of about $2 billion, but the Bush administration complained for months that donors were slow in giving the money.

"There's tremendous interest in getting the Iraqis going because, let's face it, the Afghan economy has been a subsistence economy," he said in an Associated Press interview, "whereas Iraq is one of the few Middle Eastern countries that is blessed with both oil and water — in great amounts — which means that it has a naturally balanced economy."

Zakheim said an international donors conference would be held after the World Bank gets a team of experts into Iraq to assess its needs. He said that assessment would take about six weeks.

A spokesman for Zakheim, Lt. Col. Gary Keck, said later that it was not yet clear whether the donors conference would be held under United Nations auspices or through some other organization.

Saudi Arabia announced Tuesday through its official Saudi Press Agency that it would begin a telethon Saturday week to raise money for Iraq. Iran's state-run Tehran Radio said the country's 290 legislators would donate a day's salary to the Iraqi people.

In addition to the estimated $25 billion it has spent on fighting the war so far, the United States has pledged $550 million for reconstruction, and Britain has pledged $330 million, Zakheim said. Australia and Japan have pledged $100 million; Spain, $56 million and Norway and the Netherlands, $21 million each.

Rumsfeld has said repeatedly that the United States will not keep its military forces in Iraq longer than necessary to stabilize the country, but he has offered no estimate of how long that might be. On Monday he denied a news report that the United States was planning a long-term military relationship with Iraq that would grant America forces access to perhaps four air bases.

U.S. forces control numerous airports and military bases in Iraq, including the international airport on the outskirts of Baghdad, the Rasheed air base in southeastern Baghdad, the H-1 airfield in western Iraq, Tallil air base in southern Iraq and Bashur airfield in the north.