23rd Mar 2018

EU counts humanitarian cost of Iraq crisis

  • 'All our partners are telling us they do not have the resources to scale up aid to Iraq' (Photo: European Commission)

EU institutions say up to 500,000 people have fled Mosul, Iraq, after the city fell to anti-government rebels on Tuesday (10 June).

About 200,000 of them headed to Duhok, in the Kurdish-controlled part of north-east Iraq, 100,000 headed to the Kurdish capital of Erbil, while the rest showed up between Kurdish checkpoints.

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Most of them told Kurdish officials and international aid workers they plan to go on to Kirkuk, in Iraq proper, or Baghdad. But a third group “left very quickly, with no belongings, and don’t know what to do next”.

“My understanding is that when the Iraqi army folded in Mosul there was a kind of organised panic. Most people left for preventive reasons, because of their allegiances [with the Iraqi government]. But the scene is set for widespread violence: different religious or tribal groups vying for control and Iraqi aerial attacks”, an EU source based in the region told EUobserver.

EU officials are gathering information on what is needed in terms of humanitarian aid.

They say the situation is “very fluid” amid speculation the rebels might next target Kirkuk or Baghdad itself.

Iraqi and Kurdish authorities have asked for extra help. But the EU source noted that “all our partners are telling us they do not have the resources to scale up aid to Iraq at this point in time”.

The main force in the insurgency is the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis).

The US-based NGO, Human Rights Watch, says it is guilty of brutality against civilians in Syria and in north-west Iraq, some of which amounts to “crimes against humanity”.

The EU and delegates from the League of Arab States at a meeting in Athens on Wednesday called for a tough response.

They said in a joint communique that “Iraq and the government of the Kurdistan region [should] combine their political and military forces in order to restore security”. They also called on “all states” to implement existing UN and EU sanctions against Isis.

With Isis taking hostage dozens of Turkish diplomats in Mosul, Turkey has threatened to retaliate if they are harmed.

But Nato, which held an emergency meeting at Turkey’s request also on Wednesday, said it will not get involved. “I don't see a role for Nato in Iraq. We don't have a mandate. We don't have a request,” its secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said on Thursday.

For her part, EU humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said the situation is more complicated than it appears at first glance.

Isis, a radical Sunni Muslim group, has support from some ordinary Sunni Muslims who feel oppressed by the Shia Muslim-led Iraqi government. It also has support from elements of the late Saddam Hussein’s disbanded army.

“The roots of this latest crisis are complex and include the alienation of the beleaguered Sunni Arab population, a state of generalised violence, opportunistic armed opposition groups, and a spill-over effect from the terrible war raging in Syria,” Georgieva said on Thursday.

Both Georgieva and Human Rights Watch urged Iraq to respect the law in its response.

The EU source based in the region added: “It’s not helpful to see this in terms of the ‘War on Terror’.”

“The Iraqi government has played a part in what’s happening by crushing Sunni Muslim protests. It’s not just a bunch of terrorists in pick-up trucks. It’s a very well organised paramilitary force”.

The contact added that while the fall of Mosul caused “surprise” in EU circles it was “an operation organised over the last 18 to 20 months … it was an entirely predictable surprise.”

EU foreign ministers are to discuss the situation at a regular meeting in Luxembourg on 23 June.

An EU diplomatic contact said ministers had originally planned to praise Iraq for holding elections in April and to “encourage reform”.

“There might not be an Iraq any more when we come to write the new conclusions on Iraq,” he added.

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