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Berlin’s strategic priorities in Iraq: A Policy Debate

“Germany has several strategic priorities in Iraq, ranging from countering violent extremism to strengthening bilateral economic and cultural relations”, stated Ole Diehl, the German Ambassador to Iraq, during a MERI Policy Debate on 26 May, 2021. This roundtable was attended by a group of policy makers, legislators and academic experts in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and members of the Germany’s diplomatic mission in Erbil (listed below).

In his opening remarks, broadcast live on TV, Amb. Diehl underlined Berlin’s policy objectives in Iraq, which include:

  1. To prevent terrorism and the re-emergence of the Islamic State (IS, Daesh). Terrorism isn’t just a threat to Iraq, but to the whole world. Hence, it requires an international response, for which Germany has become a key partner to Iraq. Clearly, hard security measures alone cannot prevent the threat of violent extremism in Iraq, hence, Germany has supported stabilization, rule of law, reconstruction, social cohesion and peace-building programmes, especially in areas liberated from IS.
  2. To allow people to stay in their own countries, not forcing them to migrate and prevent illegal immigration to Europe. Germany has funded several projects, such as job creation and vocational training to support the youth so they can feel they have a better future in their own country. Germany also seeks to support cultural and educational development for the Iraqi youth. The Covid-19 pandemic, insecurity and instability in Iraq have, however,all somewhat constrained Berlin’s work towards this objective.
  3. To help Iraq with the diversification of its economy. Currently, Iraq has a big public sector, its private sector has not grown adequately, and its economy is heavily dependent on oil revenue. This imbalance is not sustainable. Germany has offered expertise to help the Iraqi government to implement the recent economic ‘white paper’ and provided assistance to help Iraq diversify its economy, develop its private sector and create jobs for the youth.
  4. To help strengthen Iraq’s state institutions and promote popular participation. Functioning federalism, inclusiveness and protecting the constitutional right of all Iraqis contribute to the country’s strength. Democracy requires clear mechanisms to enhance people’s participation in local and national politics as well as in the civil society activities.
  5. To further strengthen bilateral relations and partnership with Iraq which is important as a stabilizing and balancing power in a fragile Middle East.
  6. To help overcome Covid-19 pandemic. Germany is one of the biggest donors to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX). This support is not used for diplomatic or political gains, or for competition over influence.

Under Chatham House Rules

The Ambassador’s presentation was followed by a lively discussion between participants, conducted under Chatham House Rules. The key points are summarised below, without attribution or affiliation.

Barriers for progress

Iraq’s international partners all face a number of fundamental challenges and barriers for progress in achieving their objectives in Iraq. Most of these relate to structural and functional weaknesses in Iraq’s governance. These include:

A)Iraq’s lack of state monopoly over the use of violence and the presence of a variety of armed non-state actors which are not sufficiently accountable to the state authority.

B) Lack of cooperation between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in disputed territories has created a security vacuum which IS has taken advantage off.

C) The government is seen as the provider and regulator by the society in Iraq. This is deeply embedded in the culture and mentality of the state institutions and wider public. It has to change in order to diversify Iraq’s sources of revenues and economy.

D) Corruption, nepotism and dysfunctional bureaucracy prevent international partners from performing their activities efficiently.

E) In Iraq, there is a well-established informal power-apportionment (Muhasasa) between parties, leaders and blocks. This is based on ethno-sectarian divisions and has perpetuated the weaknesses of Iraq’s state institutions and accountability mechanisms.

F) There are too many interested foreign stakeholders intervening from outside. The Iran-US rivalry in Iraq is an obvious example.

G) Iraq’s dependence on oil does not create enough pressure for reforms, due tothe recent increase in oil prices.

Next Elections

Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s government was seen as the hope and the solution to overcome Iraq’s immediate challenges, such as the anger and protests among the youth, the US-Iran rivalry and the intra-factional divisions among the Shiites. A year later, there is very limited progress and the concerns and problems remain deep. Now, the country moves towards new elections, scheduled to be held on October 10, 2021. Iraq’s international partners expect the authorities to provide a safe environment, facilitating the participation of people. Without a broad voter participation, it will be hard for the next government to claim legitimacy, thus, to provide stability.

Rule of law and freedom of expression in Kurdistan

Another key topic of discussion was Germany’s recent concerns on how the KRG authorities dealt with the case of arrested journalists and activists, in particular the decision of the KRI’s Court of Cessation in Erbil. It was emphasised that the Court must be independent, transparent and free from external interference. Also, the international partners expect from the KRI authorities to guarantee freedom of expression as well as the right to a fair trial as fundamental components of democratic governance.

Cultural and Academic engagement

Participants considered the cultural and academic exchanges between Iraq and Germany as fundamental to long-term development and bilateral relations. The previous initiatives by German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) were specifically mentioned. However, security and political developments in Iraq, particularly since the October 2019 protests, and the Covid pandemic put obstacles in the way of Germany to implement its cultural and educational plans in Iraq. Germany wants to establish joint cultural centres with France in Iraq, including the KRI.

Participants:

  • Daban Shadala                    Deputy Director, Department of Foreign Affairs, KRG
  • Dara Khailani                      Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister, KRG
  • Dlawer Ala’Aldeen              President, MERI
  • Falah Mustafa                      Advisor to the President of the KRI
  • Fawzi Hariri                         Chief of Staff, the Presidency of KRI
  • Fuad Smail                           HR Director, MERI
  • Imad Farhadi                       PUK Foreign Relation
  • Kamaran Palani                   Research Fellow, MERI
  • Karwan Gaznay                    Member of Kurdistan Parliament
  • Kathrine Jascke                   Advisor, German Consulate General
  • Khanzad Ahmed                  President, Kurdistan’s High Council for Women
  • Klemens Semtner                German Consul General, Erbil
  • Nahro Zagros                        University Professor.
  • Nashat Mahmoud                Advisor, Kurdistan Region’s Parliament
  • Naz Ali Kurdistan’s             High Council for Women
  • Ole Diehl German               Ambassador to Iraq
  • Sadi Pire                                Polit Bureau Member, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
  • Stam Ali Saeed                     Academic and member of Gorran Movement Leadership
  • Tanya Gilly                           Former Member of Iraqi Council of Representatives and a Civil Society leader

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