MERI Forum 2018, P5: The role of the international community

Panel – 5: Legitimate Stability and the role of the international community in Iraq

  • Stuart Adam, The British Acting Consul General in Erbil
  • Eric Strating, Deputy Ambassador, The Netherlands
  • Bruno Pasquino, Italian Ambassador to Iraq
  • Hansi Escobar, Spanish Ambassador to Iraq
  • Farhad Alaaldin, Advisor to the President of Iraq (Chair)

Farhad Alaaldin helped focus the panel’s discussion on the urgent necessity to improve Iraq’s stability, not only in terms of security, but also at the economic and political institutions’ levels. To achieve these objectives, the role of the international community and the contributions made by the speakers’ respective countries are pivotal.  Stability is not the end point, but only a middle phase in the path towards good governance, economic growth and, ultimately, prosperity.

Stuart Adams highlighted the long-term commitment of his country, the UK, to the recovery of Iraq in the aftermath of the war against Daesh, as well as to its “sovereignty and territorial integrity”. As Adams outlined, the British strategy is based on five broad priorities:

(a) the promotion of an effective and inclusive governance in both Baghdad and Erbil aimed not only at “overcoming the key disagreements between [the two parts] on oil revenues” but also at enhancing the coordination between the central government and the provinces in delivering the services which are demanded by the population;

(b) The Security Sector Reform program could promote a process of normalization and help the Iraqi government as well as the KRG to create modern and efficient security forces, “capable of preventing future insurgencies and securing Iraq’s borders,” but also of regaining the trust of the population, without losing sight of constitutional framework of the country and aimed at preserving the state’s monopoly on coercive force.

(c) Renewed effort to implement economic and financial reforms. From London’s perspective, these are crucial to create a fiscally sustainable system and an empowered finance Ministry that tackle corruption, while reforming the Banking and public sectors can also help to speed up the reconstruction process.

(d) The British strategy was to promote Human Rights and the restoration of an inclusive social environment, in which the rights of ethno-religious minorities and IDPs are protected and a sustainable long-term effort to counter extremism and promote reconciliation could take place.

(E) The necessity to create a better business environment not only for attracting international companies and investments, but also for stimulating the growth of an internal dynamic business class.

Adams stressed the necessity to build a good education system to sustain this environment through the forging of a “qualified and motivated work force.” The British diplomat concluded emphasizing the firm commitment of Great Britain to help Iraq in rebuilding itself, in conjunction with the International community.

The Dutch Deputy Ambassador Eric Strating put forward a similar point-based strategy for what he defined as a “Focus country” in the foreign policy agenda of the Dutch Government. While close to the British one in structural terms, this multi annual strategy appeared to be more focused on specific issues. Mr. Strating highlighted that:

  • given its abundance of natural resources, Iraq is more in need of technical expertise rather than fiscal assistance, and that Netherland is more than willing to provide it on the basis of sincere common interests. He underlined the necessity to improve the security situation as an essential requirement to have internal stability, and, in turn, prosperity. In this regard, The Netherlands can offer training support and capacity building in the security sector, helping both the governments in Baghdad and Erbil to implement reforms, professionalize the armed forces and strengthening its security partnership within the NATO and EU missions, shifting the focus from a strictly military effort against Daesh to a stabilization one.
  • The need for a sustainable management of refugees and IDPs, which, in bilateral terms, translates into a pragmatic approach adopted by the Dutch authorities, making it easy for irregular Iraqi migrants in The Netherland to return to Iraq, since “their country needs them.” Meanwhile, the Dutch will support the reconciliation process and the creation of a safe environment for returnees and IDPs.
  • Work and income policies in Iraq must be greatly fostered, in order to develop a strong private sector which will provide new job opportunities and mitigate the need for Iraqis to seek them abroad. Mr.
  • The rehabilitation of both a neglected Iraqi agriculture and dysfunctional water resources management requires the expertise and breakthrough technological innovation which Netherland can provide. However, the diplomat also stressed the necessity to improve the business environment for encouraging Dutch companies to invest and come to Iraq, addressing not only visa issues and security concerns, but also payment arrears from Baghdad.

Ultimately, Human Rights, defined by Strating as “a cornerstone of Dutch foreign policy,” must be unconditionally respected and implemented by Iraqi authorities at all level of the society, as they represent an essential prerequisite for a continuing engagement between the two countries. On the basis of the above priorities, Netherland can allocate $50 million annually for Iraq, besides the funds already devoted to international organizations and development agencies.

The Italian Ambassador to Iraq Bruno Pasquino shared the same visions and concerns, and focused on Italian’s experience that could help Iraq to regain stability and effective governance. He referred to the Italian’s commitment to Iraq’s stability, both in terms of security, as Italy is the second largest contributor to the coalition against Daesh, and humanitarian assistance. Besides the training and modernization program for the Iraqi Armed forces, including the Peshmerga, Italy may in fact present its own model of local governance and decentralisation.  Italian municipalities, for example, retain ample powers in managing and implementing services according to their communities’ needs.  These can be applied in Iraq within the constitutional framework as well as preserving its territorial integrity. Furthermore, the Italian Ambassador stressed the importance of economic development in Iraq, as a key driver for prosperity and social stability at the broad national level. In his words “Italian companies are willing to come to Iraq” but only in a context of security and cooperation promoted by the Iraqi authorities. The energy sector emerged as the most important in this sense, since Italy is seeking energy security for sustaining its medium-sized enterprises sector, and Iraq may represent an ideal partner to the ultimate benefits of both Rome and Baghdad.

In line with the observations of his colleagues, Hansi Escobar confirmed Spain’s active efforts to help Iraq in its path towards stabilization and sustainable growth, even though international support alone cannot resolve the country’s problem.   “Iraq has to be the first helper of itself”, said Escobar, and highlighted several crucial challenges that Iraqi leaders must address.

  • the exponential demographic growth – the highest in the MENA region, which in turn contributed not only to a worrying increase of youth unemployment, but also to a worsening trend in terms of internal migration and hyper urbanization, which serve as an incubator for violence proliferation. This negative combination directly damaged the self-sustainability of the economy, and it is further aggravated by a housing deficit, with 40% of the population still living in conditions of poverty and deprivation. In this regard, he suggested a reform to undercut the cost in the real estate sector, prioritizing low cost and social housing.
  • The necessity for structural reforms of the economic sector, especially in the public sector, which is too big, providing more than 42% of the total jobs, and corroded by a slow and dysfunctional bureaucracy. The Banking sector also needs urgent reform in support of the private business. Agriculture and water management as well as land distribution are also core issues requiring urgent reform.
  • The need for a sustainable and eco-friendly energy planning is needed for the future, as Iraq has enormous potential for solar energy use, with Spain ready to provide its expertise in this sector.
  • Creating an inclusive political dialogue aimed at tackling corruption and nepotism is urgently required in order to foster an effective governance.

The panel concluded with the speakers emphasizing the importance of an international and concerted effort to sustain Iraq, where the central government and the local institutions must work together, and all the groups and communities of the country actively participating in the decision-making process.

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