IT is difficult to see what purpose was served by this week's conference on Iraq, held in Brussels. It took place because President Bush had undertaken to sponsor such a conference when the Iraqis had themselves assumed full charge of the civil government and had made progress with establishing effective military and civil security forces. The new Iraq prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was able to provide an overview of the progress being made towards consolidating the success of last January's elections with the drafting of a constitution. Condoleezza Rice was present along with representatives of some 70 countries, including Syria and Iraq's other close neighbours; speeches were made in support of Iraq's recovery from the post-war insurgency. This was not a fund-raising conference, which was just as well because it became known just before it opened that of the $13 billion of aid for Iraq pledged by the international community at a Madrid conference in late 2003 only $2 billion has actually been provided. Another embarrassing figure being discussed in the conference corridors was that of $19 billion economic aid approved by the US Congress for Iraq in 2003 only $7 billion has actually been spent. Clearly, Iraq is not short of infrastructural projects on which the money could usefully be spent; the problem is that the security situation is so dire that foreign contractors are simply not willing to work in the country. It is true that there has been limited progress in Iraq's rehabilitation, for which credit should be given. But the overriding fact is the insurgency and the fragile state of security throughout the country. Yesterday US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted during evidence to a Senate commitee that Any who say we've lost this war, or that we're losing this war, are wrong. We are not. The fact that Mr Rumsfeld had to speak in such terms said a lot about the worried state of American official and public opinion over Iraq. Probably a majority would be in favour of setting a date for a withdrawal of US forces but Mr Rumsfeld said that to do this would send a lifeline to terrorists.
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