KUWAIT (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday urged members of the coalition fighting Islamic State to help rebuild Iraq or risk a reversal of the gains made against the group, and said it would extend to Baghdad a $3 billion (£2.2 billion) credit line.
The United States leads the coalition and hopes that after a three-year fight to defeat the militants it can count largely on Gulf allies to shoulder the burden of rebuilding Iraq. It is also counting on a Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement to weaken Iran’s influence there.
Iraq declared victory over Islamic State in December, having taken back all the territory captured by the militants in 2014 and 2015. The fighters have also been largely defeated in neighbouring Syria.
“If communities in Iraq and Syria cannot return to normal life, we risk the return of conditions that allowed ISIS to take and control vast territory,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a donors’ conference for Iraq hosted by Kuwait. ISIS is another acronym for Islamic State.
“We must continue to clear unexploded remnants of war left behind by ISIS, enable hospitals to reopen, restore water and electricity services, and get boys and girls back in school.”
Although the U.S. government was not expected to pledge direct financial aid at the conference, Tillerson said the official U.S. export credit agency, the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM), would sign with Iraq’s finance ministry on Tuesday a $3 billion memorandum of understanding “that will set a stage for future cooperation”.
Iraq has suffered from decades of war and it is striking that it is holding its reconstruction conference in Kuwait, which it invaded in 1990, leading to defeat by a U.S.-led coalition and more than a decade of sanctions.
Kuwait will celebrate Liberation Day from Iraq in two weeks and Iraq still pays it reparations.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose government puts the costs of reconstruction at more than $88 billion, said on Tuesday Iraq could not rebuild without outside help.
“Iraqis feel that the world is with them. As they were victorious against Daesh they will be, with your support, victorious in the battle of reconstruction,” he told the Kuwait conference, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Iraq has published a list of some 157 projects for which it is seeking investment. Baghdad has said it is determined to tackle the red tape and corruption that hamper investment.
“Doing business in Iraq can be complicated, but the Iraqi market has vast potential,” said Tillerson, saying the country had demonstrated it was “open for business”.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was ready to answer a U.S. call for it to expand its small training mission in Iraq to support reconstruction.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis sent a letter to NATO last month calling for a formal NATO train-and-advise mission, Reuters reported.
Tillerson cautioned that the end of major combat operations in Iraq did not mean the United States and its allies had achieved final victory over the militants.
“In Iraq and Syria, ISIS is attempting to morph into an insurgency. In places like Afghanistan, the Philippines, Libya, West Africa, and others, it is trying to carve out and secure safe havens,” he said.
Reporting by Yara Bayoumy and Maher Chmaytelli; Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Gareth Jones