President Obama is bound to ask Europe for one particular small thing at the NATO meeting in Strasbourg next month. A small thing that Europe is not going to give him much of: soldiers, to go to Afghanistan.
There should be no expectation of a flood of troops, and you can't call the few hundred that will be sent more than a trickle. So when Obama is back in Washington, D.C. in the days after the summit, he will be asking himself what he got out of the meeting, and he had better have some answers.
According to Daniel Serwer, Vice-President for Peace and Stability Operations at the United States Institute of Peace, one such answer could be a group of 500 civilian experts to go to Iraq. Speaking at an event titled What can Europe do in Iraq? Recommendations for a new U.S.-European collaboration hosted by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin, he outlined not only the general political situation that makes Iraq more appealing and approachable to Europeans now than at any time before, but also some of the challenges. Serwer along with his co-authors from both sides of the Atlantic has produced a report with the same title as the event, jam-packed with analysis and recommendations. In addition to authors Serwer and Layla Al-Zubaidi, Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation's Middle East Office, the panel was joined by Dr. Guido Steinberg at the SWP (German Institute for International and Security Affairs) and moderated by Ralf Fücks, Co-President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
"... it is very much in the European Union's own political and economic interests to make every effort to stabilize Iraq." (What can Europe do in Iraq? -Recommendations)
The overall mood in the debate was cautiously optimistic regarding the situation in Iraq, but less so about European capacity to engage with Iraq. The EU is still split on Iraq along the same lines as it has been since 2003, according to Dr. Steinberg. However, some key actors have left the scene, most importantly George Bush. But while the fact that Schröder, Chirac and to some extent Blair are out of the picture regarding Iraq should make renewal possible, Dr. Steinberg said the recent example of Gaza had made him wonder if the EU is able to form any foreign policies whatsoever before some major restructuring in the field.
This is unfortunate, he continued, since the EU has huge interests in Iraq, including that of regional stability. Al-Zubaidi added that the EU has not only interests, but also obligations to Iraq. "There are 2.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan, along with a similar number of internally displaced people in Iraq. The responsibility for these people lies firstly with the coalition that went to war in 2003 and secondly with Iraq itself, but Europe also has a moral obligation due to its inaction after the occupation", she said.
"The European Union should make use of its rich experience of state-building and managing transition and peace-building processes to support the Iraqi government" ... "by educating, training and mentoring personnel of key ministries, such as the ministries of the Interior and Justice." "... call for human resources of about 200 to 500 European officials as part of a broad initiative" ... "to empower state institutions and to train officials and qualified staff" (What can Europe do in Iraq? -Recommendations)
Each recent wave of returning refugees has been greeted as a sign of stabilization in Iraq, and while things are looking much better than they were some years ago, Al-Zubaidi warned against politicizing return. "A large number of those returning are doing it because of worsened conditions in Syria and Jordan, not because of better conditions in Iraq. They are going back to join those already displaced." How Iraq treats those who are now returning will determine whether the country is heading towards democracy or autocracy. According to Al-Zubaidi, settlement in the European Union and the United States should be an option for very vulnerable and threatened groups, even though their return will be a crucial test for the future of the country.
Finally, Daniel Serwer gave a broader perspective on the future of Iraq, concluding that all its neighbors do want a single Iraq. "While Saudi-Arabia and Jordan might want a dictatorial Iraq, in the light of the recent communal elections, it does not look like they will get it. Iran and Syria would want a weak Iraq, but also they would be hurt by a splintering of the country. Turkey wants an Iraq without a Kurdistan, and also they will be disappointed. But in the end they may come to see that what they get is better than a divided, sectarian Iraq."
You can access the report here.
Markus Drake is an editor at Atlantic-community.org. He has worked for the Press Room of the European Parliament following climate change topics.
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