by Stefania Bianchi
(IPS) BRUSSELS -- The European Union and the United States called for worldwide help for Iraq June 22 as tensions rose in the war-torn country.
European Union (EU) member states put their divisions aside to come together to back the international effort to rebuild Iraq.
The conference hosted jointly by the European Union (EU) and the United States in Brussels was attended by delegates from some 80 countries. The conference was called to highlight the international community's support for the new Iraqi government.
Leaders who attended included U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, the foreign ministers of all EU countries and of China, Japan, India and Iran, as well as a high-ranking Iraqi delegation including eight ministers of the interim government and Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
The event was a product of President George W. Bush's trip to Europe in February to mend ties after transatlantic rifts in 2003 over the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
The summit was short on action, and steered clear of sensitivities over the Iraq war such as the continued refusal of France and Germany and other anti-war countries to offer troops. The success of the meeting was clearly symbolic.
The mere fact that some 80 national delegations were present to pledge unanimous support for a safe and prosperous Iraq was a positive sign. Some of the world's top leaders gave supportive messages.
Annan said the international community had "turned a page on Iraq," but added that the process would not be easy and that Iraqis should take control of their own future.
"This conference marked a watershed for Iraq," he told media representatives after the meeting. Annan said he hoped the long-suffering people of Iraq would "take heart from this strong message of support."
The people of Iraq will look to this conference "for a clear sign that the international community will be their determined and dedicated companions on the tough road ahead," he said. "By our words and more importantly by our deeds we must reassure them that we will not let them down."
Rice announced "a new international partnership" on the rebuilding process, adding that the international community would "support the Iraqi government along three important fronts -- political reform, economic reconstruction and strengthening security with the rule of law."
The Brussels meeting also provided a forum for Iraq to improve relations with its neighbors, and included two bitter foes of the United Staters -- Syria and Iran.
Prime minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker said this was a good sign. Luxembourg holds EU presidency until the end of the month.
"The fact that we are co-organizing and co-sharing this very important Iraq conference is showing that when it comes to substance, when it comes to progress, both the U.S. and the EU are cooperating closely together," he said.
The conference was also seen as the first opportunity for the Iraqi transitional government led by al-Jaafari to explain to the world what assistance it needed. Al-Jaafari asked for assistance to fight the Sunni-led insurgency and rebuild the country.
More than 1,000 Iraqis and 120 U.S. troops have been killed since al-Jaafari's cabinet took office in April, with fresh rebel attacks this week despite a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown.
"Security in Iraq is of the utmost importance," the Shi'ite leader said. "We want to achieve economic and political independence and raise the competence of our security forces without turning into a security state."
The EU wants to help strengthen the interim government's institutions and plans to help improve security and the rule of law by training around 700 police and some judges.
It also hopes to open a diplomatic mission in Baghdad as soon as possible after launching a "new relationship" with Iraq, external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said last week.
"This is the beginning of a new political relationship with Iraq and I do hope it can be growing towards a real partnership," she said.
The Brussels conference was not a donors meeting, but sought to discuss practical ways the world can help Iraq. Decisions over aid flows will be made at a donors' meeting in Amman, Jordan, next month.
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