STOCKHOLM (AFP) - World leaders attending a conference on Iraq unanimously approved a declaration Thursday acknowledging Baghdad's efforts to improve security and "combat terrorism" in the war-torn country. "The participants of the Stockholm conference recognised the important efforts made by the (Iraqi) government to improve security and public order and combat terrorism and sectarian violence across Iraq," the declaration said. The statement, adopted by the some 100 delegations attending a follow-up meeting of the so-called International Compact with Iraq (ICI) conference in Stockholm, said that "given the difficult context, these successes are all the more remarkable." In a speech earlier to the conference, Ban said Iraq was "stepping back from the abyss that we feared most," adding that with international help the war-torn country could fulfil its "vision of becoming a free, secure, stable and prosperous nation." He cautioned however that "the situation remains fragile." The one-day conference in Stockholm, hosted by Ban and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, was attended by Rice, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband among others. Rice said that while Iraq was "making good progress there remain challenges. Not everything that needs to be accomplished has been accomplished." Miliband was also optimistic and noted that at the conference, "instead of talking about the last five years every speaker has talked about the next five years, and that is a really profound change of perspective." Iraqi Premier Maliki described the conference as "replete with optimism" and was a confirmation that "the Iraqi government has taken great strides forward." He acknowledged however that Iraqi demands for debt and sanctions dating back to Saddam Hussein's regime to be cancelled had yet to be fully addressed. Ban said he believed the question of lifting Iraq's wartime sanctions should be left up to the UN Security Council, but promised to use his position as UN chief to "try to help wherever I can." Earlier, Maliki appealed for his country's debts to be cancelled and the end of sanctions dating back to Saddam Hussein's regime. He noted that his country was not poor thanks to its rich oil resources, but said the debt was weighing down reconstruction efforts. Rice urged the world community and especially Iraq's Arab neighbours to re-establish diplomatic ties with Baghdad. She also called for countries to relieve Iraq's debt load, an apparent new appeal to oil-rich Gulf monarchies. In one of the few signs of criticism, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki fired a salvo at the United States, saying the major security problems remaining in Iraq were "due to mistaken policies by occupiers in Iraq." "Security in Iraq is now so grave that it has cast a shadow over" the lives of all Iraqis, he added. Iran was "following with profound humanitarian concern the ongoing events in Iraq," Mottaki said. He said it was "important" that US voters were seeking changes in US foreign policy but declined to endorse a presidential candidate.