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War in Iraq

Sabina CasagrandeNovember 14, 2006

German President Horst Köhler has called on European nations to take more action to help stabilize Iraq. But what sort of options can Europe offer to constructively support the country's future?

Can Europe do more to help rebuild Iraq?Image: AP

German President Horst Köhler has called on European nations to take more action to help stabilize Iraq. Experts say any additional efforts will only be successful if countries cooperate with the United States.

Europe needs to strengthen the dialogue with the United States on the future of Iraq, according to German President Horst Köhler.

"The war has led to a disaster, but we can't sit back and say it's a problem for the Americans," Köhler said in an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau. "That would be dumb, short-sighted and arrogant."

US Soldaten im Irak, Autobombe
Experts said sending more troops wouldn't help the Iraqi security situationImage: AP

The failure of US troops in Iraq has proven that Europe can rule out helping with military manpower.

"That is absolutely impossible," said Markus Kaim, European and Atlantic security expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. "The key issue is reinstalling Iraq's statehood, as government authority has no meaning in wide parts of the country."

German defense analyst Heinz Schulte said Europe can support measures to secure the post-war environment in Iraq.

"Europeans can play a constructive role in that transitional period between the withdrawal of American and British forces on the one hand and the establishment of a secure and credible Iraqi government that has the means to really keep the country together," Schulte said.

European support needs to meet Iraq's needs

A major task Europeans should increasingly contribute to are security issues, Schulte said.

"Without improving the security situation dramatically, there cannot be any reconstruction in terms of infrastructure and other things that need to happen, such as education, sewage work and hospitals," he said, adding that security training needed to be tailored to Iraq's needs.

Irakischer Polizist vor der Wahl
German instructors are helping to train Iraqi policeImage: AP

"One of the criticisms against the German police training, for example, was that it was too European," Schulte said. "They were training the police to patrol the streets like in a British, French or German suburb and it had nothing to do with the real situation of hard-boiled violence with a lot of arms in Iraq."

But European nations could also play a part in other aspects of developing Iraq's statehood, according to Kaim.

"In order to build up a legitimate state, Iraq also needs a tax system with financial income, it needs to develop a viable judicial system, and it needs economic well-being," Kaim said. "Europe can help with these aspects of good governance."

Europe can be an intermediary to Syria and Iran

Britain, the longtime US ally in Iraq, has, like Washington, recognized that its policies in Iraq cannot continue as they are now. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for a change in strategy in Iraq. In a keynote speech Monday evening, Blair said a major part of the answer to the Iraq problem "lies not in Iraq itself but outside it, in the whole of the region where the same forces are at work."

Ein Wachtposten an einem Ölfeld im Norden von Ramala
Blair is rethinking the British Army's presence in IraqImage: AP

It is precisely here that Europeans can take on a mediating role the United States is reluctant to play.

"The key is getting Iran on board and Europe can help put pressure on Iran to use its influence to stop Shia attacks," said Graeme Herd, international security expert from the Geneva Center for Security Policy in Switzerland. "Otherwise, the situation will continue to fall apart and this is not beneficial to the entire region."

But, experts agreed, both sides have to work together.

"I think there is a role for Europeans to play here, but it cannot be bad cop and good cop," Schulte said. "The idea that the United States and, to a lesser extent, the British are the bad cops and have to leave the country and now the airy-fairies of the European Union come in and try to rectify the situation -- that's not going to work. It has to be a concerted effort."

In order to get any help, however, Washington will have to offer something in return.

"We can be good partners, but we don't have to pay the price," Herd said. If Europe were to ask Iran for help, it will ask for something in return and the US will have to make those concessions, he said.

Still, Europe had nothing to lose by hosting a regional Iraq conference, Kaim said. Such a diplomatic investment didn't pose a danger to anyone, which isn't the case for example for police instructors working on the ground.

"And if nothing came out of it, European countries can at least say they tried," Kaim addded.

Europe needs to speak with a united voice

Horst Köhler
President Köhler doesn't shy away from controversial issuesImage: dpa

President Köhler said it was in Europe's interest to get involved.

"We cannot allow the region to slide into chaos," Köhler said. A perspective for stability in the Near and Middle East held political risk and will carry a price tag, though.

"Responsibility has its price," the president said. "But ducking away and just watching is the worse alternative."

Now it is up to Europe to find a common policy, Schulte said.

"I think the old question that (former US Secretary of State) Henry Kissinger asked, 'If I have a crisis, whom do I call in Europe?' is still valid," Schulte said. "The French look upon Europe in a different light than the British do, and the Germans again have a different agenda. So from that point of view: what is a European perspective?"

Schulte said Europe is facing a wide range of challenges including the deployment in the Congo, the situation in Darfur in Sudan, and the Middle East conflict, all of which are influencing European countries' international roles.

"All that will pressure the Europeans into a new role that isn't there yet," Schulte said.