Sweden hosts Iraq conference

International leaders gather to assess Baghdad's progress over the last year.

    Al-Maliki, second left, hopes to gather support for his government and secure Iraqi debt relief [AFP]

    Staffan de Mistura, the senior UN envoy to Iraq, said this week that the conference was "of major importance" during a "crucial period in the history of Iraq".
     
    "Either Iraq will become a sovereign, capable, stabilised country, or there will be chaos," he said.
     
    Low expectations
     
    Al-Maliki arrived in Sweden on Wednesday for the conference, hoping to secure "support for Iraq's sovereignty, debt cancellation and settlement of war reparations following the adventures of the former regime," a statement from his office said.
     
    Swedish officials have warned not to expect "a major breakthrough," and Washington has played down expectations ahead of the meeting.
     
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    Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, told reporters while en route to Stockholm, that the world needed to support the rebuilding of Iraq, now that it is in a "fundamentally different" situation then it was a year ago.
     
    She emphasised Iraq now has a functioning parliament and deeper engagement with its neighbours.
     
    In contrast to the secretary's comments, political divisions have flared in parliament recently.
     
    The main Sunni Arab political bloc, which quit the government in August, said on Wednesday it suspended talks to rejoin al-Maliki's Shia-led administration after a disagreement over a cabinet post.
     
    Arab support
     
    Additionally, no Arab country currently maintains a permanent ambassador in Baghdad. Arab governments cite 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.
     
    Bayan Jabor, Iraqi finance minister, said that debt forgiveness by Arab states is vital.
     
    "Most of the countries which participated in the Sharm el-Sheikh conference have responded, some by opening embassies and writing off debts. Now we are here to call on our Arab brothers to do the same," he said.
     
    Several demonstrations are planned around the conference centre and across Stockholm against the continued US presence in Iraq.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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