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International Conference Declares Support for Iraq, Pledges Help for Reconstruction


A one-day international conference in Brussels that brought together more than 80 countries and organizations has pledged its support for Iraq's transitional government and its plans for political and judicial reform and economic reconstruction.

The idea behind the conference, co-hosted by the European Union and the United States, was for Iraq's elected authorities to lay out their priorities for the country. The international community was then expected to say how it could help the Iraqis achieve their goals.

Although there were no concrete aid pledges, nations gave their moral support to the Iraqi government and promised full backing for its transition to democracy, independence and peace.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called the conference a watershed for Iraq.

"I am confident this will be a turning point in Iraq's transition. In the joint declaration, you, as members of the international community, committed yourselves to respond to the needs and priorities of Iraq. I hope that the people of Iraq, who have suffered so much and for so long, will take heart from this strong message of support," he said.

Iraqi officials promised to make progress in bringing Sunni Arabs into the transition process as they write a new constitution and hold general elections later this year. They also said that over time Iraq will be able to deal with the stubborn insurgency plaguing the country, but for now it still needs U.S. and international military support.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari sounded optimistic as the conference concluded.

"Today was a good day for Iraq. It was a successful day for Iraq and good news for the Iraqi people to see that the international community is coming together to stand by the process they are trying to initiate to build freedom and democracy," he said.

But Mr. Zebari and other Iraqi officials say that it is now time for countries that have pledged aid to Iraq to make good on those promises. He also asked for help in training Iraqi security forces and called for his country's neighbors to control their borders to prevent insurgents from infiltrating Iraq.

Condoleezza Rice (l) and Iraq FM Hoshyar Zebari
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice singled out Syria as having, what she called, a particular responsibility in preventing militants from crossing its borders into Iraq to carry out bombings and other attacks.

"It is really the responsibility of all of Iraq's neighbors to do everything they can actively to resist and frustrate the efforts of those who are trying to destroy the progress that is being made in Iraq ... it is time for Iraq's neighbors, and especially Syria, to live up to [their] responsibilities," he said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shaara said in response that his country would be able to better secure its borders if it were able to acquire sophisticated monitoring equipment that is now denied it under U.S. sanctions.