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Iraq: EU-UN Showcase Partnership For Positive Change

  • Ahto Lobjakas

In a rare press briefing UN and EU officials today provided insight into their joint rehabilitation and reconstruction effort in Iraq. The United Nations is the main international body involved in rebuilding Iraqi institutions and providing emergency assistance, while the EU is the largest contributor of funds to UN activities in the country. All relief work there takes place under what the deputy UN special representative to Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, described as a "discreet" veil of secrecy due to the proliferation of security threats.

Brussels, 21 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Security is such an overwhelming concern for the international aid effort in Iraq that one of its main coordinators, Staffan de Mistura, refuses to disclose the names of the aid organizations or the number of people involved.

De Mistura said that no organization wants to be publicly identified in Iraq.

"Normally, security is such a major concern that you will not see the EU flag on the ballot, you will not see the UN or UNICEF or WFP [the World Food Program] flag on the boxes of food and medicines, because otherwise they will start drawing [unwanted] attention [to themselves]," de Mistura said.

De Mistura indicated that most work on the ground is carried out by local Iraqi staff. As getting around is dangerous, aid agencies often resort to television broadcasts to get information to the general public about food drops. Text messaging has been used to inform millions of people of vaccinations.

The deputy UN special representative himself shuttles between the Jordanian capital Amman and Baghdad.

Most of the work done by the United Nations in Iraq is financed by the EU. Christian Leffler, a senior European Commission official, said the EU executive has given Iraq $520 million euros ($624.8 million) since the end of the war.

Most of that aid has been channeled through the UN-World Bank "trust fund." De Mistura noted that the United States has given the fund $10 million, but he added that Washington contributes "substantially" more through other, bilateral channels.

Leffler said that the 80 million euros donated by the EU this year toward elections, the constitutional referendum, and strengthening the Iraqi authorities represents two-thirds of all such international support.

He said the EU plans to give Iraq a further 200 million euros next year.

Leffler said the top EU priority this year has been constitutional reform, which he said was "100 percent" paid for by the EU. He said institution building will remain the EU's central concern next year as well -- the security situation permitting.

"[Building up] institutions which the Iraqis -- all Iraqis -- can recognize themselves, with the strengthening of the rule of law and other aspects of a functioning society -- these will be some of the priority themes of our work next year in 2006 if the process of consolidation of Iraqi institutions is pursued and does advance in the way we would hope that it will," Leffler said.

Leffler said that once a fully sovereign new Iraqi government is in place after the elections on 15 December, the EU plans to negotiate a bilateral cooperation accord with Baghdad.

Other mostly EU-funded UN work centers on health care, education and job creation.

De Mistura said a UN survey of 22,000 Iraqi households in 18 provinces revealed that "water, sanitation, education, and health" are the expectations associated most keenly with civilian-assistance programs.

He said that with EU funding, the UN-led work has made a lot of difference. But, as de Mistura put it, "good news doesn't make news" and many success stories go unreported.

"Do you know that there is no cholera in Iraq? You should be surprised," de Mistura said. "There should be, in theory, [as] all the possible elements for a major outbreak in Iraq [are present]. It is 52, 50 degrees heat, there is basically all the sewage, especially in the south 3 million families are without any sewage [treatment] capacity in open air, [yet] there is no cholera. Because every day, through the resources we have and through the national staff, the local staff and the network that we have established, we are in fact with the Iraqis chlorinating every single water area in Iraq."

Similarly, de Mistura said, polio should be a major problem for Iraqis -- but thanks to UN work, it isn't. Defying a wave of violence early last summer, 4.7 million children were vaccinated after text messages were sent to mobile phones in 5 million families.

As a result of UN assistance, 5.8 million Iraqi children are able to go to school.

Another crucial area for the EU-UN partnership is job creation, which revolves round encouraging small-scale private enterprise.

During a donors conference in Brussels in June, Baghdad's water supply was sabotaged and 2.3 million people were cut off. De Mistura said that UN teams drawing on EU funds were able to repair the damage quickly and move in water tankers from other parts of the country to tide Baghdad resident over. Again, de Mistura pointedly said he could not identify the aid agency responsible "for security reasons."

De Mistura said that once a new government steps in, the UN expects to switch from relief work to capacity building and strengthening the Iraqi authorities' to govern. He said supporting the various ministries is essential, as "under many of them there is a vacuum in operational terms."

De Mistura said he would "welcome" an increase in the U.S. contribution to UN activities, especially as they are redirected toward supporting the new government. U.S. congressional appropriations for the military operations in Iraq have exceeded $200 billion since the war began in March 2003.

However, De Mistura also noted that Arab countries could divert some of their increased oil profits to aiding Iraq.

"One area where we are working on, and hoping that there will be more involvement financially is from some of the Arab countries," de Mistura said. "Petrol has been going up -- [the] price -- they [have] a substantial interest, a vested interest as we all have, in stability in Iraq. There have been many reasons [for their] being hesitant about doing anything in Iraq due to the fact that perhaps [a legitimate] government was not there, but now we are hoping very much that at the next trust fund meeting they will come up with the contributions themselves."

De Mistura also said Iran has shown interest in contributing to the UN-World Bank "trust fund." He said the UN welcomes such assistance, as Iraq's neighbors should have an interest in the country's stability.