The attempt to speed up Iraqi reconstruction received a boost this week, when the world's most developed economies decided to forgive the majority of the debt racked up under Saddam Hussein. It was encouraging news at a time when very little of it is coming from within Iraq. It also put pressure on Iraq's Arab creditors to do their part and set the stage for the biggest international conference on Iraq to date. That conference closed in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm-el-Sheikh yesterday. Possibly the most remarkable aspect of the meeting is that it took place at all and that it was expected to produce general agreement on the direction for the war-torn country. It looks as though the ambitious January 30 date for parliamentary elections will be supported. This is positive, as continued progress towards fully-fledged Iraqi democracy and self-rule is the only route towards stability. However, there should be no illusions about the hard work required if the country is to be ready for the poll. The meeting also called on bordering countries to cut off support for foreign fighters and to stop allowing them overland access into Iraq. No date was expected to be set for the withdrawal of international troops, but the draft declaration called for them to leave by the time Iraq has a fully elected national government - expected by the end of next year - and for Iraqis to eventually take over responsibility for their own security. There was also likely to be a call for the Iraqi interim government to bridge political divisions and bring as many people into the electoral process as possible, as well as for the United Nations to play a leading role in the transition. The means for delivering on these goals will have to be created quickly and preparations for the poll remain crucial. The threat of a boycott by Sunni groups has to be averted. Steps have to be taken to assure the ethnic minority it will be adequately represented on the ballot and in the new government, especially after the assassinations of two outspoken Sunni leaders. Wide acceptance of the election depends on broad and free participation. Conversely, a poll without legitimacy sets the stage for fractiousness, even civil war. Despite the important role that security will play in the poll and the group's call for more commitment to protect UN workers in charge of the preparations, no new troop deployments were expected to be promised at the meeting. This is a matter that governments - including Iraq's neighbours, which stand to be affected by regional instability - should give serious and immediate consideration to. The decision to relieve some of the Iraqi public's debt burden was a laudable one, but by itself is insufficient to assure the country's future. Perhaps, however, it will provide momentum for dealing with the challenge of providing safe and representative elections in January.