Arab states ignore Iraq debt appeal

Iraqi PM says he has had no commitments to ease debt burden during Sweden summit.

    Officials had warned against high expectations [AFP]

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    Iraqi officials had asked Arab states to cancel billions of dollars it owes in debt and war compensation, in a plea aimed at countries which are reluctant to forgive Iraq's belligerence during Saddam Hussein's rule.
     
    Kuwait compensation
     
    In addition to the $67bn in foreign debt, most of it incurred during the rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's executed president, the Geneva-based UN Compensation Commission says $28bn remains to be paid in compensation for Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
     
    Iraq currently gives five per cent of its oil revenue to meet the compensation claims.
     
    The Iraqi government maintains it should not be obligated to repay debts incurred by Saddam's government, which denied basic rights to its citizens, including say over government policy.
     
    Barham Saleh, Iraq's deputy prime minister, said: "It is time to liberate the people of Iraq from this burden." 
     
    Many Western nations have dropped Iraqi debt but neighbouring Arab states have been reluctant to follow suit.
     
    'Back from the abyss'
     
    Opening the one-day conference on Thursday, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said: "Iraq is stepping back from the abyss that we feared most."
     

    Ban, right, described Iraq as stepping
    back from the abyss [AFP]

    Al-Maliki had addressed nearly 100 international delegations gathered at the start of Thursday's meeting 
     
    He said: "We call on our brothers, friends and partners ... to commit to supporting Iraq's sovereignty and banning interference in its internal affairs and to end the international sanctions that were imposed on Iraq because of the previous regime and to write off debts."
     
    While its oil exports are on the rise, al-Maliki's government says it also needs more support to supplement its political and security gains.
     
    The Stockholm conference was called to assess Iraq's progress a year after the International Compact with Iraq (ICI), a five-year plan adopted to bring peace, prosperity and political reconciliation to the war-torn country, was signed in Egypt.
     
    At that meeting, officials from 50 countries promised to cancel $32bn of Iraq's foreign debt.
     
    Western nations, Japan and commercial creditors have cancelled $66bn worth of debt over the past three years.
     
    Reparations burden
     
    No Arab country currently maintains a permanent ambassador in Baghdad, citing security concerns.
     
    Sweden, which did not take part in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and hosts a large community of Iraqi refugees, has said that neighbouring Arab nations need to engage more with the Iraqi government to give reconstruction efforts a chance of success.
     
    Swedish officials had cautioned against expecting "a major breakthrough" at the Stockholm meeting.
     
    Washington too had played down expectations.
     
    Several demonstrations took place on Thursday around the conference centre and across Stockholm against the continued US presence in Iraq.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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