Iraqi vice president presents Iraq Compact at UN, seeks international support.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
The Iraqi vice president unveiled his country's economic and political reform package before nearly 100 envoys at a UN conference, pledging to adopt a law that will share the country's oil riches among its often feuding regions and a program that would grant amnesty for insurgents who renounce violence.
Adel Abdul-Mahdi, one of two vice presidents, urged international support for the Iraq Compact, a five-year plan that requires the government to enact key political and economic reforms during its transition to financial self-sufficiency and integration into the regional and global economy.
"We are looking forward to really take Iraq out of its crisis with the help of the international community," Abdul-Mahdi said after the closed-door meeting Friday.
The compact was set up by the United Nations and the Iraqi government shortly after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took office in June 2006.
The conference's purpose was not to secure financial assistance for Iraq, but to allow the government to present its budget and legislative agenda to the international community in the hopes of marshaling support for its plans ahead of a donor conference.
Abdul-Mahdi had said the conference participants would choose a date and place for the adoption of the compact, but they did not. Ibrahim Gambari, the UN chair of the compact, said the launch would definitely happen before April 30 in a location yet to be determined.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt, who led the US delegation, said the launch would provide an opportunity for the international community to respond to the Iraqi proposals and pledge financial assistance.
"The Iraqis have done their part," Kimmitt said of Friday's unveiling of the compact. "The question now is, what will the international community do?"
Gambari noted that several countries have already said they will forgive Iraqi debt to the tune of $4 billion.
The package that Abdul-Mahdi presented included provisions for an oil-profit sharing law, which he predicted the Iraqi parliament would adopt in the coming weeks, a plan for drawing foreign investment into the country, and a fully funded budget for 2007, in which spending on education and health is double that of 2006.
It also contains political initiatives aimed at healing the sectarian rift that is responsible for some of the worst violence in the country. The government proposed a national reconciliation project, including amnesty for insurgents who renounce violence, reversing measures that have excluded many former members of Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath party from the government, and the creation of a human rights commission.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who convened the conference, acknowledged in his address that both the security and the humanitarian situations in Iraq are deteriorating.
"It is heart-wrenching to see almost daily attacks on innocent civilians, which have left immense suffering and pain in their wake," he said. "Beyond the political violence and sectarian strife, a humanitarian crisis is stretching the patience and ability of ordinary people to cope with everyday life."
In light of the violence, Ban said, many may question the appropriateness of the compact.
"However, a framework for normalization is required now more than ever," he stressed.
The secretary-general said he was also aware that there are "a multitude of initiatives on Iraq" which have yet to yield tangible results. These need to be streamlined and consolidated to concentrate on achievable goals, he said.
"But unlike the other initiatives, the compact focuses on Iraq's long-term economic development, while also stressing progress in the political and security fields," Ban said.
Kimmitt and others who attended the conference stressed that economic reform must go forward where it can, despite the violence.
"In this business, you don't do things sequentially. You have to do it in a coordinated fashion," Kimmitt said. "There are places in Iraq already that are secure enough to provide reconstruction, other essential services to the Iraqi people, and we should move to do that. And when other areas become secure, we need to be ready to do that."
"We cannot wait until every situation on security is perfect before we move to support the government of Iraq in their commitment to economic reform," said Gambari, the former UN undersecretary-general for political affairs.
He said "almost all the members, the countries that spoke ... were very supportive of the compact, and they are satisfied so far with the steps taken so far."
One senior diplomat who attended the meeting noted that the Syrian ambassador was the only attendee who voiced discontent, criticizing the "occupation" of Iraq by American forces. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.
Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari rejected that characterization, saying "on the contrary, I made a positive comment."
But he said the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq "is the most important aspect in ending the violence and sectarian bloodshed," adding that Syria fully supports the compact.
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