Friday 22. October 2021
#143 - November 2011


What role can the EU play in Iraq ?

Interview with Ambassador Jana Hybášková


Jana Hybášková is a Czech politician and diplomat, having served since 2011 as the Ambassador of the European Union in Iraq. From 2004 to 2009, she was a Member of the European Parliament for the European People's Party.


Mrs Hybášková, as the new Head of the EU Delegation to Iraq, and within the context of this ‘nightmare scenario’ to what extent will you be able to promote the EU’s policy for the attainment of security, stability (the supremacy of law) and democracy?


I am very proud to be in Iraq, representing the European External Action Service. This gives me the opportunity to serve the interests of both 500 million Europeans and 32 million Iraqis. Our key interest is the stability of this extremely resource-rich country, the last one in the world which can substantially change the nature of energy markets.


Besides that, Iraq is the first country in the Middle East with a democratically elected government. It is currently trying to manage an enormous amount of oil revenue. Competition between different political groupings is therefore natural. The EU can support Iraq by consolidating the democratic process, encouraging the passage of the forthcoming Hydrocarbon Law, balancing regional and federal interests, and promoting representative democracy.


In the same way, the EU can assist in overcoming sectarianism. Iraq's social fabric has been deeply damaged during the Saddam era, which brought about the Iraq-Iran war, UN sanctions, massacres of Kurds and Shiites, the latter during the upraising in Southern Iraq. During those 35 years, the country lost almost 4.6 million people. The EU is a good example of human society, which was able to rise from the ashes.


The U.S. military forces are leaving, and the EU's ‘soft force’ is coming. We support Iraq with our Rule of Law mission, called EUJUST LEX. Up until now, the mission has trained more than 3,000 Iraqi policemen, judges and penitentiary personnel. Soft power has its humanitarian side as well. We are now open to direct cooperation with NGOs in the sphere of humanitarian projects. We are assisting one million widows and 800,000 orphans without livelihoods.


Naturally, Europe has its interests as well. We need to strengthen the EU-Iraq strategic partnership in energy, mainly with a view to future supplies of gas through the so-called southern corridor. This will not be possible without a fully unified and functioning Iraqi State and economy. Therefore the stability of Iraq is a natural interest for the EU.


How do you assess the role of religion, or better still “interreligious diplomacy”?  Should there be room for religion (by creating for instance a “religion unit”) within the European External Action Service (EEAS)?


The role of religion in the region is a very important one. The whole Middle East is searching for an identity, and is now being torn apart by sectarianism. Totalitarian States are falling, but modern societies with human rights guaranteed equally for each individual do not exist yet.


People in the East are in desperate search of a community, a common identity. With the legacy of oppression and a culture destroyed by many years of war, it is natural to tend towards sectarianism. Of course, religion is often being used to promote the interests of sometimes corrupt leaders. Therefore, some seek to impose their truth on others, in order to rule and to reap material benefits.


This has nothing to do with Islam, the Shiites, the Sunnis, Christianity, or Judaism. We need to assist these societies to recognize, develop and guarantee basic individual rights; we need to renovate civil communities and promote democracy in societies where religion plays a fundamental role. This happened in Europe with Christian democracy.


Our new service, the EEAS, is now benefiting from the contributions of many diplomats from our Member States, who have joined the service. They are now helping to build up its new political face. Rather than an in-depth knowledge of religion, what is now needed is a strong common understanding of and support for a respect for human rights, embodied in the spirit of the EEAS. Only then we can replace the current conflict between sects, by spreading tolerance, mutual understanding, peaceful coexistence and love of humanity.


How could the EU promote security from terrorists’ threats (such as the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ – the organization that links itself to al-Qaeda) and enhance Iraqi economic prosperity?


The source of the suffering in Iraq is the damaged societal texture, the destroyed cultural and social capital, the breakdown of communities, and deeply rooted poverty. They have to cope with the social reality of a deeply religious country with almost 3 million widows without livelihoods. They have to cope with 700,000 children who are not attending school, and with almost 100,000 pre trial detainees.


This general misery, combined with very high illiteracy, high unemployment and the poor state of the economy, is a perfect breeding ground for terrorism. After a month in Baghdad I got a very stark understanding of insurgency: it is mainly ‘business’. The insurgents are in the business of extortion, kidnapping, robberies; and prisons serve as breeding grounds for these activities.


To heal this deep wound, we need to change the economic situation, to end poverty in Iraq. The first priority is electricity. Its supply is still patchy, and its distribution will continue to be a major challenge. The EU therefore must support local communities in finding their sources of energy, which will benefit basic health, educational and social services, as well as small businesses. Only when the level of unemployment drops, and attendance at elementary schools increases, will we be able to drain the swamp of the insurgency. The other way of helping is to promote good regional relations, and resist Iraq's neighbours' interference in its domestic affairs. Here, we can really have a role.


How is the EU going to have access to accurate information and documentation concerning Iraqi refugees, and guarantee for them proper housing, assuring them that their families are kept together and not split up, assuring their entitlement to health and educational services, for proper income and livelihoods, safeguarding the interests of vulnerable groups, and assisting them in sustaining regular communication with their extended families in Iraq?


The EU, together with our partners, is closely following the situation of Iraqi refugees in the region. We are fully aware of the realities and the trends. We are assisting Iraqi refugees in the areas of water and sanitation, health care, psychosocial services and shelter. We are also helping Iraq to absorb the influx of refugees and integrate them into the schooling system and basic services.


Thanks to the oil revenues, Iraq now has the funds to guarantee a decent living standard for all of its citizens. We are constantly reminding them of the need to address the conditions of vulnerable groups in general and refugees in particular. We are also pressing the Iraqi government to create the conditions for return for families and individuals. The Government is sensitive to these issues, but implementation remains a problem.


From your personal experience and analysis can you dare to discern which direction the ‘Arab street’ will take following the recent upheavals in the body politic of the Middle East and North Africa?


There is a significant difference between the revolutions of the Arab Spring and those in Central and Eastern Europe. The latter all were all politically driven, the masses of people were fighting for their political and civil rights, such as freedom of expression, of religion, of movement.


In the Middle East the situation is different: the revolution is social. People are demanding basic survival, jobs, schools, housing, and basic social security and pensions, for clean water and for bread. Their political demands are less pronounced. It is therefore not correct to talk about Islamism, islamisation, sectarianism, at this stage of development.


But this is very important: the window of opportunity for Europe is very narrow. If in the next couple of months the EU and the West generally do not react, do not support Middle Eastern peoples in their basic demands, they will turn to those with the best charities, with the best social services, with the easiest promises. Unfortunately, nowadays the only existing social security system in the region is an Islamist one. This slot is now being filled with Iranian support. If we do not organize ourselves and react with tailored measures based on social surveys and accurate needs assessments; if we do not bring added value and do not help to deliver basic services in short order, I am afraid we might lose ground. So I support any move by the EU to go ahead.


the interview was led by Fr Joe Vella Gauci

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