Europe in Iraq



Iraqi refugee children at Newroz camp. Photo Source: DFID via Flickr Creative Commons.

In 2003, the then American Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld lay a new curtain across Europe, when he labelled those willing to join the United States in their crusades across Iraq as the ‘New Europe’ and those who refrained as ‘Old Europe’.

Those that allied with America, inter alia the soon-to-be European Union member states of Central and Eastern Europe and the UK were lauded by many. On the other side of the drapes, the ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ and company were seen to be symptomatic of Europe’s diminishing willingness and ability to act on the world stage.

Fast forward eleven years and we know now those European countries that went to war went under false presences. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Questions, however, linger over Europe’s role in third country arenas: Is the EU and are European countries legitimate and relevant foreign policy actors.

The present situation in Iraq and the rise of ‘the al-Qa’ida Separatists in Iraq and Syria’ possesses no easy explanation. What is certain is that the meddling of Europeans, from the Skyes/Picot agreement to the Iraq War, has contributed to an “apocalyptic” Iraq.

There are fresh calls for Europe to save a country, the territorial integrity of which, enforced by Europeans, has all but disintegrated.

Of the big three, France was the first to pledge arms to the regional Kurdish government forces.  The UK followed suite. Last week, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi visited Kurdistan, meeting with the Regional Government’s leader Masoud Barzani. Italy has pledged weapons support.

Perhaps most significantly, Germany too looks as if it will send weapons. There is a delay, explained in part by a Kurdish commander’s claims Baghdad is impeding the deliverance of weapons to the Peshmerga. Germany has yet to determine where to send arms. It is against German law to deliver arms to a conflict zone, and given 63% of Germans are against supplying arms to the Iraqi Kurds, Merkel’s insistence of helping end this “genocide” is telling.

Where is the European Union in all of this? The EU itself does not have the means to supply weapons. In mid-August EU Ambassadors in Political and Security Committee failed to agree to coordinate the arming of KRG forces, however when foreign ministers were convened a few days later, they endorsed the efforts of individual member states to supply arms directly to the Peshmerga.

A momentous milestone agreement among twenty-eight voices and one that led to many following France’s lead.

More predictably, but no less importantly, the EU and its member states have provided vital humanitarian aid. A United Nations spokesperson on Thursday underlined the urgent need for humanitarian aid, and the EU is well-placed to deliver this.

Expectations of Europe are lower – no one anticipates nor has the appetite for boots on the ground – but can and should Europe do more?

Thousands have died at the hands of QSIS soldiers. Hundreds if not thousands of those soldiers come from European countries. One EU diplomat in Ankara claims thousands of Europeans have crossed into Syria and Northern Iraq via Turkey. Once rooted, there are fears QSIS could come to inflict damage on European soil. A more proactive Europe could not only ensure the survival of those persecuted by QSIS but beat them back into submission.

This would be unwise and in the short term unachievable. It would further foster resentment of western powers, both in the West and the Middle East, whilst embroiling troops in a war with no clear victory in sight to the dismay of a war-weary European public.

Backing an independent Iraqi Kurdistan is one likely outcome of this conflict. Already semi-autonomous, a weakened Baghdad and a seemingly more willing Turkey could see Kurdistan’s long-sought after goal achieved. An independent Iraqi Kurdistan could prove to be a moderate, Western-friendly, stable and indeed prosperous country.

This week a US court scraped an order to seize one million barrels of Kurdish oil making way for its deliverance, whilst the Kurds have a direct pipeline to Europe. USA’s Vice President Biden called for ‘functioning federalism’, whilst the Italian Prime Minister, Swedish Foreign Minister and EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response visited Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital.


Palazzo Chigi via Flickr

Italian Prime Minister Renzi meeting President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani The UK has sent a special envoy.

Would a success be Europe finally delivering in the Middle East by facilitating the independence of a country that has passed many of the tests for statehood? Only time can tell.

For now, Europe’s priorities are as they should be – preventing the murder of innocent adults and children and alleviating the suffering of millions – and once more, this time, Europe is pursuing this under a lifted curtain.

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