BRUSSELS, Belgium – Iraq won wide and concrete support from the international community Wednesday, prompting bursts of optimism for the country as it struggles to rebuild its security forces in the midst of withering terror attacks.
No new money was offered at a meeting that was never intended as a donors conference, but the gathering was applauded as proof that sharp differences over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq could be put aside to help Iraqis now.
"It's a good day for Iraq," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said joyfully. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search), clearly moved, called it a "watershed" moment for the nation.
Among the steps to emerge was a new donors conference July 18-19 in Amman, Jordan; assurances from several nations to follow through on recent pledges of aid or to consider debt relief; and expert advice on drafting a constitution ahead of December elections.
The one-day conference on Iraq, hosted by the European Union (search) and the United States at Iraq's request, brought together more than 80 senior officials from around the world.
They came to hear Iraq's road map for reform — a plan focusing on reconstruction, security and the political process — as well as Baghdad's checklist of what it needs to rebuild its legal system and police force, and restore stability and diplomatic relations.
Iraq, led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search), asked for a Marshall Plan like the massive aid program the United States provided Western Europe after World War II, an economic package which he said "offered the people of Germany financial support and pushed Germany toward independence and security."
He asked governments to follow through with pledges of aid at past donor conferences, to train Iraqi troops on Iraqi territory, and to restore full diplomatic relations with Baghdad as a sign of their commitment. "The Iraqi people don't forget those who stood by them during time of agony," he assured them.
Nations at the conference embraced Iraq's blueprint, adopting a resolution promising full support of Baghdad's "efforts to achieve a democratic, pluralist, federal and unified Iraq, reflecting the will of the Iraqi people, in which there is full respect for political and human rights."
Annan said the international community wants to see Iraq transformed from a place of violence and fear to one of hope and peace.
"We have jointly declared that we will work with Iraq to help meet the priorities and expectations of the Iraqi people," he said. "I hope that all Iraqis will take heart from today's meeting. The people of Iraq have plenty of friends and we are determined not to let them down."
Officials said two Arab nations — Egypt and Jordan — will send ambassadors to Iraq for the first time since Iraq's neighbors suspended full diplomatic relations with Baghdad as part of international sanctions during Saddam Hussein's rule. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait also said they would move toward restoring full relations.
Zebari said he pressed some neighbors to cooperate with Iraq. "We feel really some of our neighbors are not helpful enough. They heard our message loud and clear."
One of Iraq's neighbors, Syria, came under criticism from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said Damascus must do more to crack down on insurgents crossing into Iraq.
"Syria has a responsibility — it has a responsibility to the international community, it has a responsibility to its neighbors — not to allow its territory to be used for the gathering of people who are wreaking havoc and causing harm," she told reporters.
Asked about Rice's criticism, Sami Khiyami, Syria's ambassador in London, said his country is doing everything it can to secure its border with Iraq, but that it needs more help from the Iraqi government.
In an interview with British Broadcasting Corp., Khiyami said, "Syria will do more to secure its border. It is doing today the maximum. It will try to increase its efforts. ... We have built a sand barrier and improved it. We have more than 500 police and 800 troops along the frontier."
Rice and Zebari, in bilateral talks Wednesday, also discussed engaging Sunni Muslims in the political process — seen as a key way to curb the deadly insurgency in Iraq. The Iraqi delegation included a leader from a party representing Sunnis, the minority in Iraq whose long domination of the Shiite majority was toppled along with Saddam.
Iraq "has obligations of its own. To maximize the financial benefits of assistance, the new Iraqi government must continue to improve security, liberalize its economy and open political space for all members of Iraqi society who reject violence," Rice said at the start of the conference.
Zebari, addressing the conference, said Iraq is "going through an important, crucial stage" and needs the world's attention and support.
"We are confident that at the end of the day, we will succeed," he said. "We have no doubt that our cause is a just cause. The world is with us, and we are determined to move on."