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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 21:21 GMT 22:21 UK
US hopes for new Iraq headlines

By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online in Washington

Almost every Iraq story in the news in the United States focuses on the cost of the war and occupation - in terms of lives and dollars.

Officials seem to hope that will change for a few days, even if nothing else comes out of the Madrid donors' conference.

At the most basic level, the aim of the two-day international conference is to get pledges of financial support for the rebuilding and regeneration of post-Saddam Iraq.

Iraqi schoolgirls walk past an American soldier
Iraqi children have been returning to school
But the largest donations have already been announced and administration chiefs including Secretary of State Colin Powell admit they expect no surprise gifts from countries such as France and Russia.

So instead, officials are changing their definitions of success for Madrid, while highlighting the good news stories they say are already happening in Iraq.

Importance of appearance

At one of several briefings ahead of the start of the conference Al Larson, the Undersecretary of State for economic, business and agricultural affairs, said promises of donated dollars were less important than the overall impression given.

"My definition of success for the conference is whether the Iraqi people, the Iraqi representatives at this meeting leave with a sense of confidence that they have the support of the international community behind them and that, working together, they are going to be able to achieve this vision for the new Iraq," he said.

There are likely to be announcements of various new aid and reconstruction projects at the meeting, and no doubt post-summit statements will tot up the amounts already pledged and claim global giving success.

And while accepting that countries which opposed the war are not about to open up their wallets, officials still publicly nudge other nations to contribute, saying that the future stability and prosperity of Iraq is of key importance to its Arab neighbours as well as European governments.

But the nudging remains gentle. John Taylor, Treasury Undersecretary for international affairs, said only that the US would like international organisations and countries to contribute "as much as they possibly can".

REBUILDING PLEDGES
Iraqi girls sit need a stack of reeds, Basra
US - $20bn
World Bank - $3bn-$5bn
Japan - $1.5bn
UK - $835m
Spain - $300m
EU - $231m
As things stand, by far the largest amount of funding will come from the United States and there will be nothing at Madrid to change that.

But the conference offers the hope for the administration that there will be a new appearance of international co-operation, rather than the US being asked to shoulder the entire burden alone.

Mr Taylor said: "What is most important is that [the funding] represents an international support - many, many, many countries, many organisations - for the people of Iraq."

While there may be positive outcomes from the Madrid conference, Andrew Natsios, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), insists that great advances are being made in the following the end of Saddam Hussein's regime.

He said new partnerships would be announced in Spain, but there were already projects where international agencies were co-operating with private companies and Iraqis to get things done.

He told a briefing at the American Enterprise Institute that USAID was making advances in many "good news" projects, such as supplying school kits to children, including paper, a calculator and a pair of compasses - as well as rebuilding schools and putting generators at each water plant so any power cuts did not affect vital water and sewage systems.

He said tens of thousands of Iraqis were now employed in regeneration projects and that helped to engender security and boost the economy.

If people were employed they would not be roaming the streets looking for trouble and their income could be spent in the growing private sector, such as on satellite TV dishes, he said.

Much more work remained to be done and partnership with international businesses and governments was important, he said, but a good start had been made.


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