Development, democracy and human security: the challenge in Iraq

27 November 2006

Soren Saeed, Programme Manager in Iraq, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), outlined the background to the current conflict in Iraq. The country had been founded “by mistake” at the beginning of the 20th century he said, bringing together diverse territories and many ethnic and religious groups.

Iraq was one of the richest countries in the world, with a highly-educated urban population. However, it was ruled by a patriarchy for 3,000 years, has been involved in wars every six or seven years over the last century and 159 presidents have been assassinated.

The current situation is particularly drastic, said Mr Saeed. There are at least 60 violent deaths every day; public services have broken down; some areas only receive two hours’ electricity a day and have no clean drinking water; the distribution of wealth is very uneven and unemployment is rife; the country’s basic infrastructure has been destroyed; its multiculturalism has become a hindrance rather than a benefit; and there is rampant government corruption.

Mr Saeed was also critical of the government’s current logic. Its priority is to improve security, and most overseas resources have gone into this. However, most Iraqi groups have told the authorities that if there were decent services, the violence would stop.

This situation has resulted in a “misunderstanding” between the government and the people, said Mr Saeed, as the government is trying to remedy the situation with military intervention when it should be working to build democracy and involving civil society.

Working with civil society on the ground

Mr Saeed explained what the NPA is doing on the ground’. Over the last ten years, it set up literacy courses and helped with rural rehabilitation and community development. ‘Capacity building’ and strengthening civil society are among its key aims, and it concentrates on three main themes: human rights, women and youth.

In the human rights field, it has also introduced education on this in schools, trained teachers and developed educational materials. Its work on women has included efforts to eradicate violence against women, creating more employment, helping women to reach decision-making positions, setting up training courses, and developing media and information campaigns. Its youth work concentrates on projects in rural areas, encouraging their participation in the community.

The EU's role

Karin Gatt-Rutter, Member of the Iraq Task Force, Directorate-General for External Relations, European Commission, described the institution's work in Iraq.

Prior to 2003, the Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) provided humanitarian assistance to Iraq, mainly channelled through non-governmental organisations.

In the summer of 2003, the United Nations/World Bank ‘needs assessment’ set out what the international community could do to rebuild Iraq, and calculated that aid totalling $36 billion was needed. At the Madrid conference a few months later, the EU and the individual Member States agreed to contribute $1.2 billion, and the international community agreed to establish a UN/WB multilateral fund for Iraq.

The following June (2004), the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1546 on the hand-over of power to the Iraqis and, almost simultaneously, the Commission published its Communication on ‘The European Union and Iraq: a framework for engagement’, laying out its future work in Iraq.

The EU’s contribution to rebuilding the country so far has totalled €720 million, with funds earmarked for basic services (health, clean water and education), support for the political process (including the elections and the constitution), and capacity-building in Iraqi institutions.

In June 2006, the Commission published its ‘Communication for Recommendations for renewed European Union engagement with Iraq’. This suggested long-term measures, including endorsing democratic government, contributing to the rule of law and human rights, improving the delivery of basis services, supporting mechanisms for economic recovery, and setting up effective and transparent administrative structures. The Commission foresaw that civil society’s support would be needed in delivering many of these measures.

The EU is Iraq's third biggest international donor, explained Ms Gatt-Rutter, and in keeping with its heightened engagement, has increased its presence in Baghdad.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih has just visited Brussels to open negotiations on a trade and cooperation agreement. While Ms Gatt-Rutter acknowledged that this might seem rather “far-fetched” at the moment, she explained that it provided greater certainty for potential investors, easing the country’s re-entry into the international economic community.

She also emphasised that the Commission's involvement in Iraq was an “active, ongoing process” in which civil society must play a role.

Sophie Kisling, Middle East Adviser, Middle East, Mediterranean Region Unit, DG- E, Council of the European Union, explained that June 2004 had been a “turning point” for the EU, as the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1546 had enabled it to develop a consensus on Iraq.

Since then, Iraq has been discussed frequently at Council meetings, and the EU is now engaged in offering practical assistance to the country. One major activity is the Integrated Rule of Law Mission to help with capacity-building in Iraq, particularly in the judiciary. So far, the EU has helped to train 800 judicial personnel and this mission will continue until the end of 2007.

The EU will also be involved in the ‘International Compact for Iraq’, a programme being developed by the Iraqi government, with support from the UN, to provide a framework for social reforms and for the international community's support for Iraq. Ms Kisling described this as an “ambitious programme” which will address all issues relevant to development, democracy and human security.