Iraq was given a boost of confidence for its efforts to promote security for its citizens by almost 100 countries and organizations attending a one-day international conference in Stockholm Thursday.
Ban Ki-moon, left, was received by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt
The joint declaration expressed further commitment to Iraq and recognized "strong progress" in terms of establishing rule of law and promoting economic development, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the end of the meeting that took place on Thursday, May 29.
"(Iraq) is stepping back from the abyss that we feared most," he said, while stressing that the situation remains fragile.
The summit was co-chaired by Iraq and the United Nations, and hosted by Sweden as the first follow-up to the International Compact for Iraq (ICI) launched a year ago at a summit in Egypt.
The five-year ICI process aimed at increasing international support for Iraq's commitment to improve security, human rights and economic development.
Nearly 100 delegations and up to 600 political leaders and diplomats from the Arab world, Europe, the US and Iran took part.
Ban Ki-moon said the turn-out "tells you that Iraq enjoys the full support of the international community."
Investments and more trade with Iraq were highlighted in the document that also mentioned the need to reduce Iraq's debts and urged Baghdad to continue to safeguard "the rights of women, minorities and other vulnerable groups."
Iraq invited delegates to take part in a follow-up meeting next year in Baghdad, signalling confidence that gains in security would be sustained.
Ban Ki-moon said he was "quite confident" that Iraq would be able to convene that meeting.
Signs of hope
Earlier, Ban Ki-moon said "notable progress" had been made in security, political and economic areas, but cautioned that the "Iraqi people continue to suffer from acts of terrorism, sectarian violence and criminality."
However, he stressed that there were positive signs.
"There is new hope that the people and the government of Iraq are overcoming daunting challenges and working together to rebuild their country," he said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said we "kept our commitments" and in remarks during the conference and at the concluding news conference repeated the need for other governments to "forgive debts" and lift sanctions that were imposed after wars waged by the regime of Saddam Hussein.
He welcomed a statement that neighboring Saudi Arabia was willing to write off some of its claims, adding that "more information" was needed.
Debt relief was also mentioned by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said the US "would encourage other countries" to write off their debts like Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Russia had since the ICI process was launched a year ago.
The International Monetary Fund has estimated that Iraq in 2007-2008 settled $23 billion dollars of its $75 billion (48 million-euro) external debt burden.
"Stability in Iraq is stability for the region, and any instability in Iraq will affect the region as a whole," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters on the sidelines, adding that Iran was cooperating with Iraq on energy and other areas.
On opening the conference, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt underlined the importance that neighboring countries have had in hosting the flow of refugees from Iraq and cited the need to let "the UN take the lead in our engagement with Iraq."