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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

U.N. chief urges global support for Iraq

By EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press Writer Sun Apr 29, 7:40 PM ET

UNITED NATIONS - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the world's major powers to support an economic and political reform package for Iraq at a conference in Egypt this week, saying this would encourage Iraqis to promote national reconciliation.

Ban is co-chairing Thursday's conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik to launch the International Compact with Iraq, which was established by the U.N. and Iraqi government shortly after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took office in June 2006.

The five-year compact 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.

Ban and al-Maliki will push participants at the conference to forgive Iraq's huge debts and provide financial assistance to help implement the plan.

"This will be a very important international conference to help the Iraqi government to restore peace politically and economically," Ban said in an interview Thursday.

"We are very much concerned by continuing sectarian violence, and we hope that with this commitment from the international community, (the) Iraqi people will also do their own efforts to promote national reconciliation."

Asked whether the compact can make an actual difference in people's lives in the face of sectarian violence, Ban said he was confident it would send a "strong message" to the Iraqi people to work toward national reconciliation.

Arab countries are demanding that Iraq's Shiite-led government do more to reach out to disgruntled Sunni Arabs before pledging any substantial aid to the country, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press before the meeting.

That stance, and the festering tensions between Iraq and its neighbors, are complicating the U.S. and Iraqi goal of getting strong support for the compact and forgiveness of Iraq's huge debts.

Al-Maliki, on a Mideast tour last week, said Iraq would not tolerate other Arab countries setting conditions on his government. He also accused some Arab countries of still harboring extremists who infiltrate Iraq to launch attacks.

Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N. envoy for the Iraq Compact, noted last month that several countries have already said they will forgive about $4 billion in Iraqi debt.

Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi presented the compact to envoys from nearly 100 countries and international organizations in March at U.N. headquarters.

The compact includes provisions for an oil-profit sharing law, which Abdul-Mahdi 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 calling for a doubling of spending on education and health.