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Asian financial, military aid for Iraq rising
( 2003-10-23 21:23) (Reuters)

Asia's financial and military support for Iraq is rising, energised by a UN resolution last week calling on countries to help revive the war-battered nation and by US President George W. Bush's whirlwind Asian tour.

But Asian support -- from a Singapore warship and Hercules plane to Japan's generous $1.5 billion in grants -- is complicated by a groundswell of anti-American sentiment that Washington had hoped Bush might dampen while in Asia for six days.

Struggling to obtain commitments for Iraq ahead of a donors' conference this week in Madrid, Bush won fresh indications of financial support at four of the six nations he visited in Asia -- Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and Australia.

Several other Asian nations such as India are expected to announce further contributions towards the estimated $56 billion package needed to rebuild Iraq during the two-day Madrid meeting that begins on Thursday.

The United States has sought to draw its allies, including anti-war states, into peacekeeping and civilian reconstruction in Iraq as the death toll among US troops there mounts.

Asian support follows the UN's Security Council resolution last week that effectively established some international control over Iraq's future. Without that, Bush would have had major difficulty gaining support in the region, experts say.

"Without some kind of United Nations resolution it would be politically difficult for many states to be seen to be openly supporting the rather highly criticised US military action in Iraq," said Andrew Tan, a regional analyst at Singapore's Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies.


Under pressure over the growing cost of the Iraqi occupation in US lives and money, Bush had hoped to share that burden with close allies in Asia while dousing anti-American sentiment in nations such Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.

Asia's biggest contribution to Iraq comes from Japan, which announced just days before Bush's visit to Tokyo last Friday that it would provide $1.5 billion in grants to Iraq's reconstruction, making it the second-largest donor after the United States.

Japan may unveil an expanded aid package in Madrid that Japanese media say could total $5 billion over four years.

Although most Japanese opposed the Iraq war and many are wary of sending soldiers to a country where US forces face attack almost daily, Tokyo is considering sending soldiers for non-combat, humanitarian missions.

Japan, whose pacifist constitution has kept its troops from firing a shot in combat since World War Two, passed a bill in parliament in July allowing non-combat troops to go to Iraq.

The Yomiuri Shimbun said 550 soldiers would be sent in 2004 for logistical support. Some media say an advance group may be sent in December.

Most Japanese opposed the Iraq war and many are wary about sending soldiers to a country where US forces face attack almost daily. Japan's troops have not fired a shot in combat since the country's World War Two defeat in 1945, in keeping with the nation's pacifist constitution.

The Philippines, a stalwart ally to Washington that backed military action in Iraq, will pledge $1 million at the Madrid meeting, officials told reporters, but the money will be put up by the private sector in exchange for contracts in Iraq.

Singapore said it will send at least one airforce plane and a navy ship, its first military contribution since the United States invaded Iraq in March, and a US official said Singapore will likely announce a financial donation azt Madrid.

Singapore, a wealthy island of four million mostly ethnic Chinese, supported the Iraq war has long given access and temporary harbour to US warships and aircraft. It sent 32 police to Baghdad in July to help train Iraqi 1,500 policemen.

India has given $20 million so far to Iraq, including a hospital and 50,000 tonnes of wheat, and local media reports say New Delhi will give another $10 million at Madrid.


Australia is due to make an announcement on a further financial contribution, expected to be around $14 million -- in addition to $38 million already committed to humanitarian needs and $31 million for reconstruction activities -- making Australia the fifth-largest bilateral donor to Iraq.

Aaustralia, where Bush ended his Asian tour on Thursday in a visit that drew protests, sent around 2,000 troops during the US-led invasion but has made it clear it would not be involved in any peacekeeping, with its defence force already committed elsewhere.

South Korea said this month it would send additional troops to Iraq but has not decided whether to include combat personnel. Since May about 700 South Korean medical and engineering troops have worked out of a US base in the Iraqi town of Nassariya.

Seoul plans to contribute another $200 million for Iraqi reconstruction over the next four years on top of $60 million earmarked earlier this year.

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