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Lack of Financial Aid Frustrates Iraqi Ministers - 2004-10-14

Fifty-seven nations and international organizations have concluded a two-day meeting in Japan devoted to raising funds for rebuilding Iraq. The conference resulted in no significant new pledges, but gave five of Iraq's cabinet ministers a chance to explain their policies and for donors to review progress.

Iraqi interim government officials, for the first time representing their country before a meeting of international donors, expressed frustration with the trickle of pledged funds making its way into their war-torn nation.

Based on estimates by international organizations, only a fraction of one percent of the nearly $14 billion pledged last year in Madrid has actually been spent.

Iraqi Planning Minister Madhi al-Hafidh told reporters that delay could ruin the country's chance of recovery.

"We need to speed up the implementation of pledges," Mr. al-Hafidh said. "We consider what has happened in the past as not up to the level of our hopes."

Officials attending the Iraqi reconstruction donors' conference say they agreed to involve more Iraqis in implementing projects. Kidnappings and killings of foreigners in Iraq have hampered international development efforts.

Conference chairman Akio Shirota of Japan acknowledged security remains the biggest challenge.

World Bank Regional Vice President Christiaan Poortman says corruption in Iraq is another barrier to speedy project completion. Mr. Poortman says this conference was focused only on one billion dollars deposited in two international trust funds and already dedicated to priority projects.

"These are stocktaking exercises," Mr. Poortman said. "? I think we as an international community have made commitments to make sure the money is being spent quickly. It is good that we sit together to see how we are doing."

A fourth meeting of donor nations and Iraqi government leaders is scheduled in Jordan in about six months.