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World Bank studying scaling up Iraq operations


22 Apr 2006
Beefing up the World Bank's presence in Iraq with more international and local staff is currently under consideration, the head of the bank's Middle East Department said on Friday while also noting some progress in rebuilding efforts. "(World Bank President) Mr (Paul) Wolfowitz has indicated we need to strengthen our existing presence in Iraq and to provide more effective policy advice, project implementation and donor coordination and training," Christiaan Poortman, Vice President for the bank's Middle East department, told a news conference. Wolfowitz, who as former U.S. deputy defense secretary was a leading architect of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, recently authorized a fact-funding mission to Iraq to look into scaling up the bank's operations in the country. Senior bank officials have pointed out that no staff would be forced to accept an Iraq assignment and it would be on a voluntary basis. Poortman, who worked on the rebuilding of Bosnia following the Dayton accords that ended the 1992-95 war, said the timing and extent of strengthening the bank's presence in Iraq was ultimately up to the World Bank's member countries. Joseph Saba, World Bank director for Iraq, said rebuilding was "a mixed story," but he also pointed to some progress. Saba said the disbursement of funds from a donor trust managed by the World Bank for rebuilding projects was approaching a rate for Middle East countries that are not in conflict, a sign of the progress. Over half of the amount of the money committed in the trust fund is now out to tender or under contract, he added without elaborating. "For us in terms of development this is perhaps one of the most critical factors for the amount of money we have and for what we're trying to do in Iraq," he said, adding, "What we're trying to do is not only build things with bricks but we're trying to put into place an institutional process so that Iraqis do it themselves." The fact that many local bidders were tendering for the projects was also a positive development, Saba noted. "We'd like to see it go faster, and obviously political events have an impact, but we think institutional development to try to create transparent accountable institutions is a slow process, it never occurs in six months," he added.
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