Helping Iraq

Article by EU High Representative Javier Solana

The transition in Iraq is entering a decisive stage. Our goal is clear: a secure, unified and democratic Iraq that makes a positive contribution to the stability of a volatile region. This aim is ambitious but it has wide support: from within Iraq itself, but also from the countries in the region, the EU, the US and many others. The international consensus that has long eluded us on Iraq is now in place.

But the path towards our goal is full of obstacles and challenges. Daily life in Iraq is difficult: bomb attacks and kidnappings, rising crime and lawlessness, weak or absent basic services and a scarcity of jobs. There are, inevitably after a long period without politics, political divisions and significant tensions between - and within - the main communities. Iraq deserves all the help it can get. The European Union is committed to contribute to its political, economic and social reconstruction. That was the message I took to Baghdad when I visited it earlier this month with Jack Straw and other European leaders. And that will again be our message this week at the International Conference in Brussels, co-hosted by the EU and the US, which will bring together no fewer than 80 countries and organisations.

Since the January elections, much progress has been made along the path set out in UN Security Council Resolution 1546. A Transitional National Assembly was formed along with a Transitional Iraqi Government. Work is underway to draw up a permanent Constitution. There are lively debates on subjects such as the role of Islam in political life, federalism (though nobody questions the unity of Iraq), the control of national resources, the position of Kirkuk and so on. These debates are exactly what democratic transitions are about.

Successful democracy means government with the consent of the people. It requires elections but also the rule of law, freedom of speech and a willingness to compromise. When my European colleagues and I visited Baghdad, one important theme in our discussions was how to ensure proper Sunni participation in the political process. All interlocutors agreed that for a variety of reasons Sunni Arabs had not participated properly in the elections. Most Sunnis wish to change that. The drafting of the Constitution therefore is not just a crucial moment for the future of the country. It is also a timely opportunity for the reintegration of the Sunnis into Iraq's political life. I therefore welcome the decision to expand Sunni representation in the Constitutional Committee. Inclusiveness and genuine national reconciliation will be as important as improving the security situation and economic reconstruction. Accordingly, the EU's engagement in support of Iraq covers all three areas: political, economic and security. On the economic front, the pledged reconstruction assistance of the EU and the member-states is € 1.2 billion. In the area of security I am pleased that the EU has agreed to establish, on the request of the Iraqi government, an Integrated Rule of Law Mission for Iraq which should be launched on 1st July 2005. The aim of the mission is to provide training for around 770 high- and mid-level Iraqi officials from the police, judiciary and penitentiary sectors. Training will focus on building management capacity and enhancing skills and procedures in criminal investigation. Iraqis are as troubled by crime as by terrorism. These EU's efforts will come on top of similar training programmes run by several EU member-states.

Finally, we should consider the regional dimension. Strikingly, only few Arab countries have working embassies in Baghdad. More broadly, the whole Gulf region is crisis-prone, over-armed and under-institutionalised. In Europe we have learned the hard way that sustainable peace and security require regional co-operation and integration. Democracy also flourishes more easily in an environment of cooperation and freedom from threat.

The initiative to promote regional co-operation must come from the region. But Europeans and others, including the UN and the US, can do a lot to help. A Gulf security forum could help to fit Iraq into a broader context; work on Iranian concerns; and tackle common and cross-border threats. Up until now, regional leaders and outside powers alike have sought security in balanceof- power calculations and short-term bilateral deals. The record of frequent wars and continuing instability shows the costs and limitations of this approach. Now there is a chance to break out of this loop. Let us take the opportunity to move from crisis management to co-operative security. Despite all the well-known difficulties, Iraq today has a chance. It never did under Saddam Hussein. It is our collective duty and our common interest to make the most of it.