Devastated by a war with Islamic State extremists that razed its cities and left millions homeless, Iraq has asked affluent allies led by the United States for $88 billion to rebuild. They are basically saying no.
An Iraq fund-raising conference in Kuwait attended by dozens of potential donors was headed for failure on Tuesday, with barely $4 billion pledged — none from the United States. While the conference does not end until Wednesday, the message was clear: President Trump is leaving nation-building to others, and they are barely responding.
It was a humiliating blow for the Iraqi government, which cannot possibly afford a fraction of the reconstruction cost for a war that was, in some ways, an outcome of the 2003-2011 American-led occupation.
The failure also threatens the political future of Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, and undermines years of effort by the United States and others to stabilize Iraq and fight extremism there.
The relatively small sums pledged to Iraq also raised questions about whether the United States can be counted upon to deliver aid and other resources to allies, when it could not muster more help for one of its foremost partners in the war against the Islamic State.
Numerous Iraqi cities were reduced to rubble in the fighting, particularly Mosul, the country’s second largest. Yet, while Iraq estimated that it would need $88 billion to pay for reconstruction, it was expected to receive only $4 billion in pledges by the time the conference ends. The majority of that is to come from Arab donors in the Persian Gulf, with the Saudis, Emiratis, Kuwaitis and Qataris all pledging around $1 billion each.
There was also a flurry of loan guarantees, including one by the United States. But all in all, the pledges amounted to less than 5 percent of what Iraq said it wanted and needs.
The State Department emphasized that the United States since 2014 had already given Iraq $1.7 billion in humanitarian aid and $6 billion in economic and security assistance, money mostly committed during the Obama administration. In an evening speech to the conference, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson called on others to do their part.
“Everyone in this room has an opportunity to help set Iraq on a new course and contribute to its long-term development,” he said, although he admitted that “doing business in Iraq can be complicated.”
The conference was held against the backdrop of President Trump’s emphasis on more military spending. The administration’s budget for fiscal year 2019, unveiled Monday, proposed eliminating much of the nation’s foreign aid and reducing the State Department’s overall spending by a third while increasing the Pentagon’s budget by $195 billion in the next two years.
Among the programs the administration has proposed eliminating are a $4.6 billion economic support fund, a $3 billion budget for international development assistance and a $211 million fund to promote democratic institutions.
In Iraq, those priorities seem to mean that the United States, after leaning heavily on the Iraqi military, which suffered heavy casualties in the fight against the Islamic State, appears to be leaving the task of rebuilding Iraq’s shattered cities to other nations and the private sector.
Few other nations have stepped up. Most of the four dozen foreign ministers in Kuwait City for the donor conference brought only good wishes, not money.
Read full article by Margaret Coker and Gardiner Harris on The New York Time, February 13, 2018.