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Arab states still wary of investing in Iraq

At a United Nations conference in Sweden Thursday, Iraq appealed for debt forgiveness to boost development.

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Before the rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraq was the most highly developed country in the Arab world. During his brutal reign, the country was the recipient of vast sums of money from the United States and the Persian Gulf Arab states, eager to finance a rival to Iran.

But five years after the overthrow of "the Lion of the Arabs," and his replacement by a Shiite and Kurdish-led democracy wracked by violence, Iraq remains an outcast in the Arab world. It owes between $56 billion and $80 billion in foreign debt – mostly to neighboring countries – which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki entreated them to forgive at a UN conference on Iraq in Sweden Thursday.

Most Sunni Arab governments say they are still too concerned about Iraq's security environment to open embassies in Baghdad or invest there.

"The region has got to wake up to the reality that there was a real, fundamental change in Iraq," insisted Adil Abd Al Mahdi, vice president of Iraq, at the World Economic Forum of the Middle East earlier this month. "This is not going to go away. Everyone had better deal with it now."

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