Nations pledge $33b to help rebuild war-torn Iraq

A member of the Iraqi forces guarding a checkpoint in the northern Iraqi city of Baiji. The one-time industrial hub has been reduced to a devastated ghost city in the fight against ISIS.
A member of the Iraqi forces guarding a checkpoint in the northern Iraqi city of Baiji. The one-time industrial hub has been reduced to a devastated ghost city in the fight against ISIS.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Baghdad offers projects from oil refineries to huge housing ventures at donors' conference

KUWAIT CITY • Governments from around the world yesterday pledged billions of dollars in loans and investment for the reconstruction of Iraq, a nation reeling from a three-year war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

Iraq secured nearly US$25 billion (S$33 billion) in the first few hours of the final day of an international donors' conference in Kuwait City.

Baghdad says it needs nearly US$90 billion to rebuild after a grisly war with ISIS extremists which devastated homes, schools, hospitals and economic infrastructure, displacing millions of people.

The top contributors so far are Britain and Turkey. Britain said it would grant Iraq export credit of up to US$1 billion per year for a decade. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country would provide US$5 billion in loans and investment, without specifying the breakdown.

The Gulf states, led by host nation Kuwait, pledged US$5 billion in investment, loans and financing for exports, while Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister said Teheran would contribute to stabilisation efforts through the private sector, without announcing a financial pledge.

Iraq said its 10-year reconstruction plan will cost US$88.2 billion, of which US$22 billion was required immediately.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's government is hoping the global community will follow up the end of major combat against ISIS with concrete financial support for reconstruction.

But the call for investment came just days after an Iraqi court sentenced an Iraqi-American anti-corruption activist to six years in jail for defamation of state institutions.

On Wednesday, Mr Abadi sought to allay fears that funds would be lost to graft, for which the country is notorious. "We will not stop fighting corruption, which is not less than terrorism. In fact, it was one of the reasons for the rise of terrorism," he told the potential donors.

"Last week, we launched a string of measures to simplify procedures for investments," Mr Abadi said, adding that Iraq had ratified international covenants aimed at protecting investments.

Throughout the three-day reconstruction conference, Baghdad has been on a drive to attract international investors to rebuild the country, offering hundreds of projects from oil refineries to massive housing and transport ventures.

Iraqi and World Bank officials on Tuesday talked up legal guarantees available in post-ISIS Iraq, pointing to an investment law that offers ownership, unlimited cash transfers and tax breaks, among other benefits.

The chairman of Iraq's National Investment Commission, Mr Sami al-Araji, said investors in Iraq will find "high risks, but high returns".

UN chief Antonio Guterres yesterday sought to motivate donors, saying it was incumbent on the global community to back Iraq after its sacrifices against the ISIS extremists.

"The whole world owes you a debt for your struggle against the deadly global threat posed by (ISIS)," he said, in comments directed at the Iraqi delegation.

Some analysts noted that most of the Iraqi cities ravaged during the fight against ISIS are in predominantly Sunni areas, where an insurgency took root after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and later gave rise to an affiliate of Al-Qaeda and the leadership ranks of ISIS. If they are not rebuilt, diplomats fear the populace will once again turn to extremism, a risk US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson highlighted in a speech to a separate gathering of the 74-nation coalition to defeat ISIS.

At the same gathering, Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman reaffirmed Singapore's contributions to the coalition's efforts to eradicate terrorism and stressed the need for a holistic response to it.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2018, with the headline 'Nations pledge $33b to help rebuild war-torn Iraq'. Print Edition | Subscribe