EU unveils strategy to stabilise Iraq following territorial defeat of ISIS

Iraqi civilian greet a military convoy inside the recently recaptured of the left side of Shirqat town, northern Iraq, 23 September 2017. [Bareq El Samarrai/EPA/EFE]

The EU’s foreign affairs chief and the European Commission adopted yesterday (8 January) a Joint Communication proposing an EU strategy for Iraq in order to address the many challenges the country faces following the territorial defeat of Islamic State.

Iraq and Syria have both declared victory over Islamic State in recent weeks, after a year that saw the two countries’ armies, a range of foreign allies and various local forces drive the fighters out of all the towns and villages that once made up their self-proclaimed caliphate.

The United States has led an international coalition including France, Britain and Italy, conducting air strikes against Islamic State since 2014 when the group swept across a third of Iraq. Now EU countries redeploy their military capacity elsewhere. Italy announced it will shift military forces from Iraq to Niger. At the same time, the focus shifts from military to civilian support.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi  is now engaged in an effort to manage more than two million Iraqis displaced by the war against Islamic State.

But critics say he is more interested in winning elections in May than alleviating the suffering of displaced Iraqis and returning them safely home.

Authorities are sending back people against their will, refugees and aid workers say, to ensure that the election takes place on time. People must be in their area of origin to vote and if they do not get home, this could delay the election.

Abadi is riding a wave of popularity after defeating Islamic State in Iraq and is anxious the election should not be held up.

The new EU proposal outlines both ongoing and longer term EU support to the country, fully taking into account the Iraqi government’s priorities.

Mogherini said in a statement that Iraq is “at a crossroads in its history” following the territorial defeat of ISIS.

“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: only inclusiveness can guarantee true reconciliation so that Iraqis can close once and for all with the past. This needs international support and we are ready to contribute, to keep supporting the Iraqi people and government in these challenges, for the sake of the people of the country and the region”, she stated.

Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Christos Stylianides, who has visited Iraq several times to assess EU aid projects, said it was essential to support “all Iraqi’s in need of assistance today and tomorrow, for as long as it takes.” He added that he had seen first-hand the suffering in places like Mosul and Fallujah and that it was crucial that all aid efforts continue to be impartial and neutral.

Development Commissioner Neven Mimica added that the EU was committed to being a key partner in reconstruction, stabilisation and longer term sustainable development.

“The EU aims to strengthen concrete support to the Iraqi people in a wide range of areas, to foster economic growth, good governance and strengthening the judicial system as well as boosting education”, Mimica stated.

The EU strategy focuses on delivering continued humanitarian aid and facilitating the stabilisation of areas liberated from ISIS, with three million displaced Iraqis still unable to return home. It also seeks to address the longer term reform, reconstruction and reconciliation efforts.