Donor nations meeting in Madrid have begun a two-day conference that will determine the speed and scope of reconstruction in Iraq. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan opened the meeting with a call for immediate aid, even though Iraq remains under U.S.-led occupation.
There are still divisions within the international community over how much to contribute to Iraq's recovery. Countries such as France argue that an international reconstruction effort should only begin once Iraqis have regained sovereignty from the U.S.-led occupying forces.
But Mr. Annan took aim at that position, saying that continued wrangling between the United States and its allies, on the one hand, and such countries as France, Germany, and Russia, on the other, could only lead to more suffering for the Iraqi people.
"I know we all look forward to the earliest possible establishment of a sovereign Iraqi government, but a start on reconstruction cannot be deferred until that day," he said. "It demands our urgent attention now. I appeal to donors to give and give generously, and for those contributions to be provided in addition to existing commitments."
The United States and host country Spain have been careful not to set a target for how much they want pledged at the conference, but a U.N./World Bank report estimates Iraq needs more than $36 billion in reconstruction aid during the next four years.
Another report, by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, found that an additional $19 billion is needed to rebuild sectors, including security, that are not covered by the World Bank report.
Nearly three billion dollars have been pledged, in addition to the $20 billion Washington plans to contribute over an 18-month period. Japan has pledged $1.5 billion. Britain's total contribution would amount to $900 million. And Spain plans to give $300 million.
A number of potential donors, such as Italy and wealthy Gulf states, have yet to announce their contributions.
More than 300 companies and business organizations from all over the world are taking part in a parallel conference in Madrid that Iraqi officials hope will spur private investment in their country. But most observers say it is too early to expect private capital to flow into Iraq, as long as the security situation there is unstable.