TOKYO – Iraq's deputy leader pleaded with donors Wednesday to fulfill their promises of aid to help rebuild his war-ravaged nation, while U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (search) acknowledged that Washington was initially too slow in channeling money to Iraq.
Of the $13.6 billion in grants and loans promised last year by nations and lending institutions, only about $1 billion has been deposited in World Bank and U.N. funds for Iraq (search).
Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh (search) and four other members of Iraq's interim Cabinet were at the 55-nation conference that opened Wednesday in Tokyo in hopes of convincing participants that their country is both in need of donations and safe enough for the money to be effective.
"Development and stability in Iraq cannot be driven through the barrels of guns," Saleh said in an impassioned speech to open the two-day conference. "Assistance and aid in the short term is the key to destroying the causes of terrorism. It is also the only way we can build a sustainable, long-term future for our people."
Saleh said Iraq's wealth had been "utterly squandered by tyranny" before a U.S.-led coalition invaded the country last year and ousted former dictator Saddam.
"Please do not delay — the time to make firm commitments is now. Honor your pledges now," he said.
Armitage acknowledged the slow pace and said the recent use of more U.S. funds for security has created a "void," particularly in the electrical and water sectors in Iraq.
"It took longer than necessary to get our act together prior to turning over sovereignty," he said.
But he added: "It's not a complete void. We have other money going in."
Armitage stressed that the United States — Iraq's leading donor nation, with a pledge of $18.4 billion — is "picking up the pace."
The United States has disbursed about $3 billion for reconstruction so far, including about one-third in the past 12 weeks, and Armitage said he expects Washington to soon dispense about $400 million a month.
Armitage also called on other nations to join the United States in giving Iraq major debt relief. He said Iraq's debt is about $125 billion, and said he believes Washington has won assurances for at least half of that to be forgiven.
The donors' meeting follows a conference in Madrid last year in which 37 countries and international lending institutions pledged $13.6 billion in grants and loans. Other meetings have followed, most recently in Doha, Qatar, in May. But the continuing instability in Iraq has stalled reconstruction and diverted funds to security.
Saleh noted that Wednesday's conference is the first since the new Iraqi government assumed power in July, and stressed that elections are scheduled for January. While acknowledging that security problems remain, he said he wanted more help on the ground, particularly from international organizations such as the United Nations.
"I ask the United Nations, where is the critical support for the political process that the U.N. is mandated to provide?" he said. "We need more U.N. support and we need it now. Please don't let the Iraqi people down."
The U.N. delegate responded that putting more people in the country now would only provide terrorists with high-profile targets.
"It isn't enough, and we know it," U.N. Development Program administrator Mark Malloch Brown said of Iraq staffing levels. "It lies heavily on our conscience. But we must remain prudent."
Few new pledges were expected in Tokyo.
Iran was the first, promising $10 million.
On the eve of the conference, Japan announced three new infrastructure projects worth a total of roughly $144 million, but that did not include the promise of any new funds. Tokyo, which has already promised up to $5 billion, pledged Wednesday to earmark $40 million to help with Iraq's elections, again from existing funds.