KUWAIT CITY - The Iraqi government's hope of raising close to $100 billion to reconstruct areas devastated by the Islamic State group appeared dim Monday, as an international reconstruction conference kicked off in Kuwait.
"The government has faced major and dangerous challenges," Mahdi al-Alak, the head of Iraq's Cabinet of Ministers, said of the country's more than three-year struggle to defeat the terrorist group. At one point, IS controlled as much as a third of Iraq's territory.
"This disrupted the economic and development process, especially that the country was facing one of the fiercest terrorist attacks and the government had to change its priorities and embark upon liberation," al-Alak noted.
At the same time, global oil prices plunged, and the combined shock severely impacted Iraq's economy.
Damages in IS-affected areas are estimated at $45.7 billion, according to an assessment by the Iraqi government and the World Bank. Recovery and reconstruction needs stand at just over $88 billion; the government is hoping to raise $100 billion to support the decade of work ahead.
Hopes of large contributions have faded, with the United States essentially confirming reports last week it would not be pledging any additional funds. Major contributions from wealthy Gulf Arab states do not appear likely either.
Enter the private sector.
Nearly 2,000 companies from 60 countries are expected to attend Tuesday's meetings on investing in Iraq. The conference co-chairs — Iraq, Kuwait, the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank — hope to mobilize their money.
More than 150 U.S. companies have registered to attend, the largest contingent from any country, a conference official said.
A World Bank report declares Iraq is "fertile ground" for investments, with its huge oil reserves and need for reconstruction. "Despite the risk, investment in Iraq could provide among the highest rate of returns," the report concludes.
The National Investment Commission has identified over 190 projects in 12 sectors that span energy to ice cream factories.
Although officially defeated, IS still casts a long shadow in the region. Ministers will meet Tuesday to discuss protecting against a resurgence of the group in Iraq and neighboring Syria. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be among those to address the session.
Iraqi officials say it is important to stabilize military success with work on the ground to prevent creating a space for IS or other extremist groups to re-emerge.
That is one of the reasons they hope to get a number of short-term projects up and running quickly, both to restore basic services and put citizens to work.