As fresh violence engulfs Iraq, the officials in charge of its government pressed a major meeting of donor nations here on Monday for billions of dollars in new financing to repair a country that remains in a state of physical and economic collapse.
But in a finely balanced argument, the Iraqi officials also said their country and its fledgling financial institutions were stable and secure enough to manage the influx of that much money.
In fact, those officials said, now is the time for local Iraqi governments to take the lead in setting priorities for rebuilding out of the hands of foreign nations, and for Iraqi contractors to carry out virtually all of the work with local labor.
Some of those pleas were answered when Japan reached what the Iraqi planning minister, Barham Salih, said were the outlines of an agreement to provide $3.5 billion in low-interest loans for water, sewage, road and other projects. The World Bank also announced that it had offered Iraq up to $500 million in similar loans over the next two years.
Mr. Salih, whose ministry functions as a kind of switchyard for rebuilding funds, made it clear that he was disappointed in major portions of the American rebuilding program, which he said had failed to produce quick results despite the expenditure of about $9 billion, according to Pentagon figures.
After formulaic declarations by officials at the United Nations and the World Bank that the first day of the conference had been a success, Mr. Salih gave a blunter assessment.
“I want to hold judgment and claim success once we see these pledges turned into realities on the ground,” Mr. Salih said, adding that the rebuilding effort had roughly six months to show results before Iraqis began giving up hope that it would ever improve their lives.
“This is the time to make the difference,” he said. “It is now or it will be too late. Iraq’s people have grown numb to many statements of support.”
Staffan de Mistura, a United Nations representative at the gathering, held at a conference center next to the Dead Sea, agreed that “we are facing six crucial months” but argued that some programs had quietly been successful. For example, he said, water chlorination programs carried out by Iraqis have prevented major outbreaks of cholera amid the chaos of the insurgency.
“We cannot be, outside of this room, too loud about it, for reasons that you know,” Mr. Mistura said, referring to the danger that any project faces in Iraq if it is understood to be directed or financed by foreigners.
That concession captured what often seemed to be a paradox of the meeting: although the Iraqis were trying to persuade other countries that Iraq was safe and secure enough to carry out rebuilding projects, the meeting took place in the safety of Jordan rather than in Baghdad.
Much of the conference focused on $1.1 billion already placed in trust funds for Iraqi reconstruction by a number of countries around the world, led by Japan, the European Union and Canada. Japan’s contribution to those funds is the largest, about $350 million, said Michael Bell, chairman of the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq, which oversees the money.
Most of the fund’s money has already been committed to specific projects, and Iraqi officials have been saying for weeks that they hoped to reel in more pledges here. But while 59 countries registered for the meeting by an official count, actual attendance seemed sparse, and a number of those countries did not send representatives.
Before his formal speech, Mr. Salih addressed the issue on the minds of many in attendance and asked for a moment of silence for victims of a suicide bomber who killed 71 people on Saturday in the town of Musayyib, south of Baghdad. He asked that the moment also commemorate the victims of the London bombings last week.
Referring to the American rebuilding program, Mr. Salih said in prepared remarks that its “large-scale, capital-intensive” focus had been inevitable because of the crumbling infrastructure inherited from Saddam Hussein’s government.
But he added, “It is now clear that that these megaprojects, though essential, have not succeeded in providing quickly enough for Iraqis’ basic needs like electricity, water and sanitation.”
American officials had little to say about the repeated criticism of their rebuilding programs. “We think this was a successful day,” said one American official who asked not to be identified because he wanted attention to remain on the Iraqis.
Mr. Salih tried to ease a major concern of some potential donor countries by saying Iraq was making new efforts to root out corrupt officials in the government ranks.
Christiaan Poortman, a World Bank official, acknowledged those concerns. “At this point in time, the push is to get the money out,” Mr. Poortman said. “Six months from now the talk will be about ‘where did the money go?’ “
He added, “And we are not going to get burned on this one.”
24 Killed in String of Attacks
BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 18 (AP) – Gunmen killed at least 24 police officers, soldiers and government workers in attacks across Iraq on Monday, and an Iraqi general said about 50 suspected insurgents had been captured in the first days of a new security operation in Baghdad.
For the first time in several days, Baghdad was not hit by suicide bombers. But a car bomb went off near American and Iraqi troops in Rawah, 175 miles northwest of Baghdad, witnesses reported. At least one person, believed to have been a civilian, was killed, the witnesses said.
The latest bloodshed occurred in a series of small-scale ambushes and shootings. The deadliest attack on Monday was in the western Baghdad district of Khadra, where eight policemen died in a gun battle with insurgents, the police said. It was unclear whether the insurgents suffered casualties. There were other attacks in Baghdad, Taji, Samarra and Mosul as well.
The military said an American marine died in what was termed a non-hostile incident on Sunday at a base in Ramadi.
Iraqi forces reported a new offensive against the insurgents in Baghdad. An Iraqi general, who spoke Monday on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said the operation began last week on the west side of the Tigris, which divides the city. He said about 50 suspected insurgents, including two Syrians, had been captured in the opening days of the operation, which would be expanded in the next few days.