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Iraqi Officials Seek Faster Distribution of Financial Aid - 2004-02-28

Representatives from some 40 donor countries financing Iraq's reconstruction program open a two-day meeting in Abu Dhabi Saturday. Iraqi officials are asking the donors to speed up the distribution of about $33 billion that was pledged last year.

Iraq's interim minister of planning and development, Mehdi al-Hafidh, opened the conference by urging donors to disperse $4 billion this year.

He also said that negotiations with lending countries have resulted in principle, in a 60 percent reduction of Iraq's overall $120 billion in debt. The minister said the official amount of debt reduction has not been announced yet.

Mr. al-Hafidh said Iraq's needs are enormous and urgent. Iraqi officials will present a list of some 700 key rebuilding projects to the group, which includes representatives from the United States, European Union, World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The donors met in October of last year, and pledged to provide $33 billion in loans and grants to Iraq, although Iraqis estimated the country would need $56 billion over the next three years.

The money will be distributed through a trust fund managed by the United Nations Development Group and the World Bank.

A World Bank official has said the fund would probably disperse some $500 million to the Iraqi government by the scheduled June 30 transfer of power from the U.S.-led Coalition Authority to the interim Iraqi Governing Council.

Security concerns and ongoing terror attacks inside Iraq are discouraging many foreign investors from pouring money into the war-torn country until the situation stabilizes.

Iraqi officials say they need funds now to help rebuild schools, regulate the power supply and modernize the agricultural industry.