EU Must Act on Iraq

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2004 edition of The Sunday Business Post and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

Now is the time for the EU and the European left to move on Iraq.

With the current hostage-taking there, we have travelled back in time to October 29, 1990, when United Nations Security Council Resolution 674 demanded that the Gulf state cease taking hostages.

We are again at a ‘tipping point’ in Iraq and the Middle East in general. Bernard Lewis, scholar of the Islamic world and author of The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years, believes that positive developments in Iraq would help the entire region enormously. Unfortunately, the converse is also true.

The Middle East is in terrible shape. A UN report on Arab Human Development, prepared in 2002 by Arab intellectuals, identified three key deficits in the region: freedom, knowledge and female empowerment.

A subsequent conference held in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt in March of this year produced the Alexandrina Document on Reform in the Arab World.

The report, prepared by Arab intellectuals, academics, members of the business community and NGO representatives, advocated free speech and free elections in the Middle East, the separation of powers, transparent government and fixed political terms.

These are revolutionary proposals for the region, and deserve our full support. A recent poll in the region indicated that 51 per cent of young adults wished to emigrate, which is a good indicator of the urgent need for reform.

If Iraq `goes wrong’ now, it will stop reform in its tracks. This is because of who would `win’ the current conflict.

A likely winner would be the Ba’ath/ Sunni ruling elite, which was not destroyed during the war in Iraq in 2003. If the group re-establishes control of Iraq or significant parts of it, it is already clear from the conflict in Falluja what the nature of its ruling regime will be. It will oppress its people and be in conflict with the UN and with Iraq’s neighbours, possibly leading to intervention from the latter.

The Ba’ath/Sunni ruling elite is the most politically and militarily organised group in Iraq. If it does not `win’ the conflict, the likely result would be civil war, with Iraq divided up and its neighbours sucked in. Whatever the outcome, reform in the region will be stalled.

Such an outcome flies in the face of our European ideals and interests, and is one of the few cases where the humanitarian impulse and strategic needs coincide. We in Europe are much closer to the Middle East than the United States. Its refugees will be demanding entrance to the EU, not the US. We are also more dependent on its oil, and geographically closer to its attacks.Therefore,we need to engage now in sorting out its problems.

James Dobbins, the Clinton administration’s special envoy for Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, and the Bush administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, recently summarised in Survival, the quarterly magazine of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the lessons learned from nation-building in Japan, West Germany, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan for Iraq.

According to Dobbins, it will take up to 500,000 troops and about 50,000 police five years to ensure a reasonable democratic transition. Artificial deadlines or premature elections have been found to be counterproductive to nation-building, according to Dobbins, who advocates holding local elections first and national elections later.

Dobbins believes there is a need for consultation and liaison with Iraq’s neighbours, and notes the need to balance burden-sharing and `unity of command’,with Kosovo as probably the best example of how to achieve same.

It is clear that the US does not have sufficient troops or the other necessary requirements for nation-building to achieve the right result for the people of Iraq on its own.

The EU foreign ministers led by Brian Cowen and the left in Europe, need to focus on Iraq now. It is not too late.

A recent poll in Iraq prepared for the BBC and ABC television news stations showed that the Iraqi people still believe things are better in the region than they were a year ago, and will continue to get better.

More believed it was right for the US to invade Iraq than thought it was wrong, and a significant majority believed it was not now legitimate to target Coalition troops.

However, in a worrying development, 85.9 per cent thought what Iraq needed most at this time was democracy, yet 81.1 per cent were in favour of a strong single leader. That is the real threat in the absence of security.

It would be a brave decision on the part of the EU to support putting significant troops into Iraq in order to stabilise the region and allow some form of democracy to emerge. If we thought the humanitarian threat in Kosovo justified such,the humanitarian threat in Iraq is equally dangerous.

Supporting the reform movement requires urgent action. And it is evident that there are risks and dangers associated with this. However, the long-term risks and dangers to the EU from a failure in Iraq are much more serious.

Reform would be stalled for at least a generation. Emigration, legal or otherwise, would very much `target’ the European states, and the Sunni al-Qaeda, which is now probably closely liaising with the Ba’ath/Sunni ruling elite, would be emboldened.

It is time to take a stand on the situation in Iraq now, rather than returning again to the divisive debate of one year ago.

As Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has pointed out, the only difference between Iraq 2003 and Kosovo 1999 was that in Kosovo, the EU states of France and Germany agreed with the action taken on humanitarian grounds.

Are we going to override that humanitarian impulse now? Will we repeat Rwanda, or face up to our responsibilities?

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