Iraqi Official Urges Nations to Fulfill Aid Pledges

With only $1 billion in hand out of $13.6 billion pledged, Iraq's deputy prime minister on Wednesday called on nations to fulfill their promises of aid at the start of a 55-nation conference aimed at increasing donations for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Five members of Iraq's interim Cabinet, including Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh (search), were at the two-day conference to try to persuade participants that their country is both in need of donations and is safe enough for the money to be effective.

The conference is the first since the new government assumed power in July. Organizers hope donor nations will be more willing to deal with the new Iraqi government than the previous U.S.-controlled administration.

The meeting follows a conference in Madrid last year in which 37 countries and international lending institutions pledged $13.6 billion in grants and loans.

But the continuing instability in Iraq has stalled reconstruction and diverted funds to security. Only about $1 billion of the pledged amount has been deposited with the World Bank (search) and U.N.

"Please do not delay — the time to make firm commitments is now. Honor your pledges now," Saleh told delegates at the start of the conference.

He said Iraq's wealth had been "utterly squandered by tyranny."

Japan pledged additional aid of $40 million to help with Iraq's elections in January. The announcement brings to $1.3 billion the amount Japan has put into specific projects. It has pledged another $200 million in the near term and a total of up to $5 billion over the next several years.

The United States is the leading donor nation, with a pledge of $18.4 billion.