The European Commission published this week an EU strategy for support to Iraq. The strategy paper addresses the humanitarian, political, economic and security challenges the country faces following the defeat of the Islamic State (Da’esh).
An EU spokesperson told The Brussels Times that there is no change in EU policy with regard to the issue of Iraq’s territorial integrity and Kurdish independence.
The strategy paper says that EU “should remain fully committed to Iraq’s unity” but it also stresses the necessity of a “sustained dialogue on all outstanding issues” between the central government in Bagdad and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
EU’s support focuses on delivering continued EU humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people and facilitating the stabilisation of areas liberated from Da’esh, with three million displaced Iraqis still unable to return home. Iraq also hosts 250 000 Syrian refugees.
Not mentioned in the strategy paper is the fact that more than half of the internally displaced Iraqis and the majority of the Syrian refugees found shelter in Iraqi Kurdistan and the areas controlled by its Peshmerga forces which played a crucial role in defeating Da’esh.
The paper also ignores that the central government imposed a blockade of Kurdistan following the independence referendum on 25 September, thereby worsening the humanitarian situation. Bagdad also launched an offensive against the areas which had been liberated from Da’esh by Peshmerga. As a result about 170 000 civilians have been displaced.
The offensive was spearheaded by Iraqi Shiite paramilitary forces, the so-called Popular Mobilisation Units, supported by Iran, and has led to demographic changes in areas where Kurds have been living for centuries. The elected Kurdish Governor for Kirkuk has been replaced by a none-elected governor by Bagdad.
In providing humanitarian aid and facilitating a safe return of internally displaced persons to their homes, which need to be rebuilt, EU is also acting in its own self-interest to prevent illegal migration to Europe.
“Iraq is at a crossroads in its history following the territorial defeat of Da’esh at great sacrifice. It is now crucial to act quickly and rebuild the country with the participation of all the components of Iraqi society, to promote and protect fundamental rights and the rule of law in each and every area,” said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini Tuesday (8 January),
She added that only inclusiveness can guarantee true reconciliation so that Iraqis can close once and for all with the past.
EU has offices in Kurdish Erbil and direct communication with KRG especially as regards the internally displaced persons and the humanitarian situation. In a previous statement (15.11) EU stated that it “stands ready” to offer its support to a dialogue between the central government and KRG if requested by all parties.
Asked by The Brussels Times if EU could be considered as an honest broker in such a dialogue, Delavar Ajgeiy, head of KRG´s mission to EU, replied:
“There is need for international mediation to facilitate the negotiations between the two parties. EU can play an important role in such a process. It can use its influence and play a more active role to guarantee the constitutional rights of the Kurds in Iraq and a win-win agreement for both parties.”
For the time being the outcome of the independence referendum has been put on hold by KRG to give a dialogue based on the Iraqi constitutional framework a chance. Such a dialogue seems also a prerequisite for implementing EU’s ambitious strategy for support to Iraq.
The actions proposed in the strategy will be discussed with EU Member States at the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 January and with the European Parliament. The EU foresees a review of the proposed strategy after two years, to assess the impact of the actions outlined therein and to make adjustments as appropriate.