United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has called on the international community to "give and give generously" at the opening of a major conference to raise money for the reconstruction of Iraq.
About $50bn is needed to rebuild Iraq, aid officials say
He warned that ensuring a prosperous future for Iraq would be a long-term challenge that will "require effort and engagement for many years", but that immediate action was needed.
More than 70 countries and multilateral organisations are attending the two-day meeting in Madrid, Spain, which has the strong backing of the United States.
Washington is seeking more than $30bn dollars in pledges, but donations are expected to fall far short of that target.
Countries such as France, Germany and Russia, which opposed the US-led war on Iraq, have already said they will not provide any more money beyond what they have already promised.
The unstable security situation in Iraq has made some potential donors worried about making financial commitments at this stage.
The meeting comes days after the UN Security Council passed a US resolution calling for a multinational force and aid for Iraq from the world community.
The UN and the World Bank say about $50bn is needed to rebuild Iraq over the next few years.
The BBC's Washington correspondent, Jon Leyne, says until a few weeks ago it looked as if this conference would be a major embarrassment, with the rest of the world only offering a tiny fraction of that amount.
But, he says, in recent weeks Washington has been working hard to increase donations and to lower expectations.
The United States has already pledged $20bn and some potential donors, including wealthy Gulf states, have yet to announce their contributions.
Other pledges already made include:
- $3bn-$5bn from the World Bank
- $1.5bn from Japan
- $835m from Britain
- $300m from Spain
- $231m from the European Union
- $32.6m from Sweden
However, divisions over the running of Iraq and the security situation have raised doubts that the Madrid conference will yield significant results.
"At this stage, we don't plan any additional aid," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Wednesday.
"To us, the starting point is truly the full and complete recognition of Iraqi sovereignty."
But the chief American administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said it was "time for the French Government to put aside all the disputes we may have had in February and March".
The president of Iraq's US-appointed Governing Council, Iyad Allawi, said he had received statements of support at the UN and was now seeking "concrete assistance".
"After the ravages and mismanagement of the last 35 years, a lot of investment and help is needed," he said.
Mr Annan said it seemed unlikely the international community would come up with all the money right away, but that the conference was a step in the right direction.
"We all look forward to the earliest possible establishment of a
sovereign Iraqi government but the start of the reconstruction
cannot be delayed until that day," he said.
Countries that want to give donations can put it into new trust funds, so they can say they are giving money to international institutions, not to the Americans.
BBC News Online's world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds says Iraqi debt is one big issue which is not on the formal agenda but which will certainly be on the delegates' minds.
Saddam Hussein ran up foreign debts of between $95bn and $150bn, according to figures compiled by Jubilee Iraq, a London-based network of Iraqi exiles and sympathisers who are calling for the debt to be written off.
In Madrid, demonstrators are planning to protest against the international military presence in Iraq and security in the capital is tight.