21st May 2019

EU speaks with one voice on Iraq

The EU has put aside its bickering over the budget and the constitution to put its weight behind the international effort to rebuild Iraq, but Wednesday's (22 June) summit did little beyond expressing optimism for the future of the war-torn country.

"Europe has been split down the middle, but people are now willing to put the divisions of the past behind them", UK foreign secretary Jack Straw said, referring to last week's Franco-British row over the EU's 2007-2013 financial plan.

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  • After the budgetary divisions, Europe has found common ground on Iraq (Photo: European Commission)

His comments echoed earlier remarks from the Irish, US and eastern European delegations that the talks were marked by a forward-looking spirit on all sides, with French, Iranian and Syrian diplomats declining to revisit former jibes at the US and UK's intervention in the region.

"We are now in a different phase", a western European diplomatic contact noted. "And that's - stuff it! We didn't like what you did but now we'll have to get together and help, to work for a good cause".

Short on action

The summit was short on action but replete with rhetorical support for Baghdad's efforts to draft a constitution that will include women and Sunni muslims in the future body politic, to modernise and liberalise its oil sector and to establish a viable security force of its own.

Ninety five percent of Iraq's income currently comes from oil revenues, with 1.4 million barrells exported every day, while the country's 168,000-strong security forces are equipped with 140,000 pistols, 155,000 AK47s and 7,000 heavy machine guns but few armoured vehicles.

Some Middle Eastern countries pledged to cut Iraq's debt on the model of the Paris Club of international lenders, but Russia, one of Iraq's largest creditors, stayed silent on the topic.

Iraq inherited $125 billion of debt from Saddam Hussein's regime, as well as $50 billion in compenstaion claims stemming from the Gulf War.

Meanwhile Ukraine and Georgia angled for business opportunities in the Iraqi infrastructure sector, while the UK and the US declined to give a date for pulling out their troops, saying they have a moral responsibility to leave Iraq in safe hands.

Emotional language

The meeting was marked by emotional language on the suffering of the Iraqi people, while Baghdad's prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, thanked the US and European forces for shedding blood to free his country.

"People mostly read out their pre-prepared speeches. There were no surprises. At times it was a bit boring", another European diplomat remarked.

The UK's Jack Straw noted "When you have a conference like this the substantive element does not become clear for many months".

But delegates were united in stressing that the sheer number of participants - with 80 national delegations present - pledging unanimous support for a safe and prosperous Iraq, bodes well for the country's future.

UN seceratry general Kofi Annan said the international community had "turned a page on Iraq" while US foreign affairs chief Condoleezza Rice announced "a new international partnership" on the rebuilding process.

Jordanian foreign minister Farouk Kasrawi added that "Iraq has long been burdened by turmoil, but the good wind now blows its way".

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