The country of Iraq has had a turbulent history in recent decades, although the recent defeat of Da’esh in the Levant is a step in the right direction. The European Union has confirmed its commitment to safeguard that step: on January 22nd, the European Council published its Council Conclusions on Iraq, based on a meeting the same day by its Foreign Policy council. This is an important document: it outlines the EU’s entire approach to postwar Iraq.
In fact, the Council conclusions go beyond that: not only do they provide a recipe for EU-Iraq relations, but they also establish a precedent for how the EU may deal with international issues, which do not directly affect Europe or its immediate neighborhood.
The conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere have had tremendous indirect consequences on Europe: the refugee crisis, the escalation in migratory phenomena, human trafficking. This has presented, and continues to present a challenge to law and order, European sovereignty, and European capacity to deal with a humanitarian crisis. It is impossible for Europe to ignore semi-distant conflicts in the 21st century, and in an increasingly globalized world. For a refugee fleeing a war, getting from Syria to Sweden is not the impossible feat which it might have seemed 50 years ago.
The Americans are separate from the problem by oceans not passable with simple rafts. Therefore it is important to note that their perspective diverges from ours on the matter; this is compounded by the fact that they have different interests in the region.
American interests in the area are primarily ones of influence, as well as maintaining a dominant position in the global balance of power, keeping China and Russia in check. European interests are much simpler: limiting exposure. It’s important to note that this applies to the war in Syria and Iraq, but is not limited to it. The very same interest requires ramping up efforts against human trafficking originating in war zones, or stimulated by deep poverty, which mostly stem from the corrupt autocratic leaders of the Third World and beyond, who put their on grasp on power ahead of their own people’s needs.
The European plan for Iraq, and beyond
The Council conclusions are presented in bold, and analyzed individually. Our commentary is not consistent with the argumentation in the published Conclusions, for the detailed conclusions on the specific issue of Iraq, then follow the link provided earlier.
a) Preserving the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, as well as its ethnic and religious diversity.
This is likely a signal to the Kurds that their potential independence is not supported by the European Union.
b) Strengthening the Iraqi political system by supporting Iraqi efforts to establish a balanced, inclusive[,] accountable and democratic system of government.
Listing core European values. The migration crisis did not start in a vacuum. If the citizens of Iraq and beyond could trust their governments to act in their best interests and respect their rights, then there would be no need for them to have to abandon their homes.
c) Supporting the Iraqi authorities in delivering humanitarian aid, support for early recovery, stabilization, development and reconstruction.
Both Iraq and the international community must step up efforts to help people on the ground. The easiest recruitment campaign for the next Da’esh or Al Qaeda will be the day to day lack of not only goods and services, but also basic necessities for survival and self-improvement.
This is core nation-building and rebuilding. The citizens need to gain trust in a society that is there to aid them, and not there to hold them back. Something the Americans cannot do, because if they built all the schools, mosques, and bridges needed in Iraq, then the American voter would question, why such services could be afforded in Baghdad, and not at home. Therefore, we must use our unique European perspective in order to aid the establishment of an effective bureaucracy, which has a perspective of giving to the people instead of taking from them.
d) Promoting sustainable, knowledge-based and inclusive growth and job creation.
The growth of Iraq cannot depend entirely on foreign aid and public opinion in Western countries. Iraq needs to not just be a legally independent State, but also in practice be able to sustain itself, especially against the ups and downs of the global oil price. This is crucial for the purposes of actually building an Iraq, which will not just collapse into civil war again, the next time Western troops leave.
e) Promoting an effective and independent justice system and ensuring accountability.
A functioning Western State today is not based on democracy alone. There is a foundation below democracy, which makes it possible, and that is the rule of law. If justice is not reliable, then there is no trust in institutions, and therefore these institutions cannot provide effective solutions for the Iraqi citizens. We citizens of liberal democracies often think our way of governance starts with the vote, but it does not. It start with the knowledge that laws exist, have to be respected, and if they are broken we know what sanction to expect. Without the rule of law, election laws would be impossible, and therefore fair elections would also be impossible.
Another aspect of this is if justice is not corrupt, then it can fight corruption in society and the State. Power without checks naturally corrupts and therefore the judiciary is often the most important wing of the states authority, when rebuilding or creating a State. They are the people’s protection against the undermining of civil rights at the hands of agencies and legislation from the other branches of government.
f) Establishing a migration dialogue with Iraq.
This seems to imply the return of refugees and migrants to Iraq. Europe can offer aid in exchange for the return of people who do not feel at home in European countries – people that Iraq is also going to need in order to rebuild. Naturally, this EU-Iraq cooperation is a quid-pro-quo. Funds spent to build institutions in Iraq and fund contruction projects are being employed there, rather than domestically, because there is something to be gained.
This is an investment for Europe in Iraq, where the expectation is that the country will be able to support and welcome back the people who fled. It’s also an expectation that their society should adopt values, which have led to peace and prosperity in Europe in the postwar. The West defeated totalitarian ideas such as communism and fascism, and so can Iraq in due course.
g) Supporting Iraq’s good relations with all its neighbours.
No State exists in a vacuum. Britain might leave the EU, but they cannot physically just move into the North Atlantic. The same is the case for Iraq. The country is split mainly between Kurds (such as in Turkey, Syria, and Iran), Sunnis (similar to the majority of Syrians), and Shias (such as in Iran – Iraq’s dominating Shia majority is already heavily infiltrated from Iran), which each offer their own cross border problems.
Beyond the ethnic and religious setup issues, there’s also past relationships to consider. Iraq has invaded Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia within the last 40 years. Fundamental to this equation is the regional power game between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are only separated by Iraq and the Persian Gulf.
Therefore, maintaining a stable, strong, and democratic Iraq is paramount for the future of the region. Should Iraq find a permanent and peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue, then this could be implemented in the three other countries, that have a significant Kurdish minority. Should Iraq stay out of the Saudi-Iranian Cold War, then they will eventually become both a symbol in the region for growth and stability, but also be an effective mediator between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The seven headline points of the Conclusions are not just headlines, but a general platform for how the EU can support stability, nation-building, European values, and geopolitical stability. One has to hope this is not just an Iraq policy, based in the impossible nature of getting anything slightly controversial through the Council on international matters, but instead a road map for European resolution to international controversy.
The days of colonialism are behind us, and the lessons learned from those adventures in the end often proved more costly than enriching. It is in our interests to prevent death, suffering, and injustice around the world both as humanitarians, but also as rational beings. All crises eventually end up on our doorsteps in the form of refugees and migrants, who have nowhere else to go.
The interests of Europe and the wast majority of humans is the same as, when these values lay the foundation of the European Union. Peace, cooperation, trade, rule of law, respect, freedom, equality, and brotherhood. If the most war ravaged continent of this planet can maintain internal peace for 72 years and counting with no foreseeable change, then this should be our primary export good. We cannot force our lessons from Verdun, Dunkirk, and beyond on other countries, cultures and peoples, but we can offer the aid of our lessons to them, when they face the challenge of building or rebuilding. And when we have something tangible to gain from their peace and prosperity beyond emotional gratification, then there is not reasonable alternative than to back up our words with our wealth and resources.
DISCLAIMER: opinions expressed here are the author’s, not of My Country? Europe and/or European institutions.