Amir opens KICRI – UN chief urges support for Iraq
KUWAIT: HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah congratulated the Iraqi people on the victory achieved that led to the defeat of the so-called Islamic State (IS) and abolishing it from most of its soil. His remarks came during the official inauguration of the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq (KICRI) yesterday. Governments, global funds, organizations and investors pledged billions of dollars in loans and investment at the conference for Iraq, a nation reeling from a three-year war against IS.
The significant level of participation in this conference, whether government, civil or private, comes as a global recognition of the magnitude of sacrifices by Iraq in its fight against terrorism, HH the Amir noted, pointing out that the international community seeks to reward these sacrifices that turned the lives of Iraqis in IS-controlled areas into a “living hell”.
The results of this conference are a continuation of all “our” efforts, the Amir said. “Yet, we should not neglect the suffering of our brothers in Syria and Yemen due to the ongoing conflicts taking place there, but we are confident that we and the international community will support them as soon as security and stability are restored.”
Sheikh Sabah added that the magnitude of destruction inflicted on Iraq by terrorist groups cannot be overlooked, which requires Iraq to embark on an inclusive reconstruction process that will cover infrastructure and other public utilities, a task that cannot be borne by Iraq alone, which is a matter that has urged “us” to call on the international community to partake and shoulder its responsibility.
“In light of our realization of such consequences, we considered the vital role of the private sector in reinvigorating the investment environment in Iraq. Last night, more than 2,000 businesses from the private sector came to examine investment opportunities in Iraq. Also, non-governmental organizations contributed in lessening the suffering of the Iraqi people,” he said.
HH the Amir, during the speech, extended appreciation to Iraq, the United Nations, the European Union and the World Bank, all as co-chairs of KICRI, along with the host country. He concluded by announcing $1 billion in loans to Iraq through the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, as well as another $1 billion in investments in Iraq.
Donors had pledged $30 billion by the final day of the international conference, according to Kuwait. “The commitment of the international community at the conference was clear,” said Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah, adding that 76 countries, numerous international funds and global organizations and hundreds of investors had made pledges. Baghdad says it needs nearly $90 billion to rebuild after a grisly war with IS extremists which devastated homes, schools, hospitals and economic infrastructure, displacing millions of people.
Top contributors included Britain and Turkey, though each with its own stipulations. Britain said it would grant Iraq export credit of up to $1 billion per year for a decade. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country would provide $5 billion in loans and investment, without specifying the breakdown. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday said the Export-Import Bank of the United States was set to ink a $3 billion memorandum of understanding with Baghdad, which would “set a stage for future cooperation across key sectors of Iraq’s economy including oil and gas, transportation, and commodities”.
The Gulf states, led by host nation Kuwait, pledged $5 billion in investment, loans and financing for exports. Iran’s deputy foreign minister said Tehran would contribute to stabilization efforts through the private sector, without announcing a financial pledge. Iraq said its 10-year reconstruction plan would cost $88.2 billion, of which $22 billion was required immediately. “We were hoping for more,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari told AFP at the close of the conference. “We are not disappointed, but the amount was less than expected,” he added.
The World Bank yesterday said the private sector should play a leading role for a “successful” reconstruction of Iraq. “Many businesses from around the world have gathered here to discuss how they can invest in Iraq’s future and create the jobs that will help bring stability to the country. Their presence in such numbers shows that Iraq is open for business,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said, echoing comments by the head of Iraq’s National Investment Commission. Kim said the bank’s financial commitments to Iraq now top $4.7 billion, up from $600 million in 2014 – though just two new projects worth $510 million were announced yesterday.
In Kuwait, the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi was working to attract foreign capital to fund a wide range of reconstruction projects. 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.
Yesterday, Abadi sought to allay fears that funds would be lost to corruption, 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,” Abadi said, adding his cabinet had ratified international covenants aimed at protecting investments.
Baghdad has put forward hundreds of projects, from oil refineries to massive housing and transport ventures, pointing to an investment law that offers ownership, unlimited cash transfers and tax breaks, among other benefits. National Investment Commission chairman Sami Al-Araji said investors in Iraq would find “high risks, but high returns”.
UN chief Antonio Guterres yesterday sought to motivate donors, saying it was incumbent on the international community to back Iraq after its sacrifices against the extremists of the Islamic State group. “The whole world owes you a debt for your struggle against the deadly global threat posed by Daesh (IS),” Guterres said, in comments directed at the Iraqi delegation. “It is time to demonstrate our lasting gratitude and solidarity with the Iraqi people,” he said. Guterres highlighted UN-backed initiatives for which he was seeking support. A two-year recovery program is aimed at making “immediate and tangible improvements to people’s daily lives” while more cumbersome infrastructure projects get underway. – Agencies