BRUSSELS, Belgium — The staid conference room in a European capital could not have seemed further from the bloodstained streets of Baghdad. There, Iraqi leaders pleaded with the world to focus on the human costs of the conflict engulfing their homeland, and to do more to bring peace.
"The children of Iraq are just like yours — they don't want to lose their fathers," Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said in opening remarks to an international conference that concluded with calls for not just cash, but a Marshall Plan-style commitment to help those most vulnerable among Iraq's citizens.
"The women of Iraq are just like yours — they don't want to lose their husbands," al-Jaafari said.
The U.N., the European Union, the United States and more than 80 other nations pledged their support — while saying Iraq could also do more to help itself. No new money was offered at a meeting that was never intended as a donors' conference, but the gathering was applauded as proof that sharp differences over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq could be put aside to help Iraqis.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was sure the meeting would have a direct effect on the lives of Iraqis.
"I hope that what the Iraqi people feel and touch is yes, concrete aspects, concrete contributions from the international community as a result of this conference," Rice said. "This will spur people to do more."
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, wrapped up the meeting with the announcement of a date for a new donors' conference: July 17-18 in Amman, Jordan.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the broad show of support in Brussels "a turning point" for Iraq, adding: "Ultimately, of course, Iraq's future lies in the hands of the Iraqis themselves."
Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim sounded a similar theme, urging all around the crowded table to "look ahead. We must all contribute to the normalization and full integration of Iraq in the family of nations."
Al-Jaafari and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari set out four top priorities: drafting a constitution and holding elections, securing stability, rebuilding the economy and healing ties with neighbors. To carry out those tasks, Zebari asked for help training Iraq's military and for its neighbors to control their borders to prevent insurgents from infiltrating into Iraq.
The response was a declaration backing the transitional government's "efforts to achieve a democratic, pluralist, federal and unified Iraq, reflecting the will of the Iraqi people, in which there is full respect for political and human rights."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the conference, while not coming up with concrete results of new aid pledges was "very encouraging," noting that Iraq's neighbors were now rallying to support Iraq.
"Two years ago, most Arab states were extremely skeptical about whether there was any chance at all (that) Iraq — after the military action — would be able to come together to start to form a secure, prosperous and coherent state. I think most of them have been relieved by the progress."
One of Iraq's Arab neighbors, Syria, was a focus of the meeting, with Rice telling reporters it has a responsibility "not to allow its territory to be used for the gathering of people who are wreaking havoc and causing harm." The United States has repeatedly accused Syria of not doing enough to keep terrorists from slipping into Iraq from its borders, leading to speculation Damascus is next in line for regime change.
Zebari said he discussed Syria during the conference.
"We feel really some of our neighbors are not helpful enough," said Zebari. "They heard our message loud and clear."
Egypt to send ambassador to Iraq
On Wednesday, Zebari announced that Egypt would become the first Arab nation to send an ambassador to Baghdad in the post-Saddam era. Jordan followed.
Zebari also said his government was planning to restore full diplomatic relations with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, adding that ties with both neighbors "are good and very positive." He said Iraq had also asked the two countries to forgive some or all of Iraq's debt.
The conference, co-hosted by the EU and the U.S. at Iraq's request, was called to bolster international backing for Iraq.
Zebari said Iraq is "going through an important, crucial stage" and said Baghdad now needs the world's attention and support.
"We are confident that at the end of the day, we will succeed," he said. "We have no doubt that our cause is a just cause. The world is with us, and we are determined to move on."
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.