Countries have been urged to give generously and quickly to help the Iraqi reconstruction effort at the start of a major donors’ conference in Madrid.

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The plea was made by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan as the United States looks for other countries to follow its lead by digging deep.

The US will provide about $A28 billion, while its allies Britain and Spain have also pledged large contributions.

But so far the signs at the conference are that the money might not pour in as the Americans hope – countries like France, Germany and Russia which opposed the war, say they will not add to the money they have already pledged.

Many countries remain concerned about security issues in Iraq and have hinted they will want a more stable political environment before they commit further.

The conference comes as US Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the US military will need to remain in the country for at least another year.

He told the French newspaper Le Figaro: “The Iraqis must draft their constitution…that could take several months. Then there have to be elections. It would be difficult to imagine that all that could be done in less than a year.”

US officials have insisted that Iraq must have a new constitution and fresh elections before it can hand over to a democratically-elected Iraqi government, while critics have said the hand-over of power should occur first.

The US job of persuading countries to cough up may also have been made more difficult by the fact the chief of the occupation authority has been forced to reject allegations that billions of dollars in Iraqi oil revenue and other funds earmarked for reconstruction had gone missing in “opaque” bank accounts.

“There is absolutely no question about transparency,” said Paul Bremer at the donors’ conference.

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