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Iraq: Lightning EU Visit Points To Broader Brussels Role

The top EU foreign policy officials who were in Baghdad yesterday for an unannounced lightning visit returned optimistic that ties with and aid to the country could be significantly upgraded. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told a news conference in Brussels today that she expects to open a Commission office in Baghdad within the month. The EU is also preparing missions to train Iraqi police officers, judges, and other high officials. As for financial aid, Iraq is expected to flesh out its priorities at a conference in Brussels on 21-22 June co-hosted by the EU and the United States.

Brussels, 10 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Hopes are growing in the EU capital that Iraq may at last have turned a corner in its struggle for stability and security.

A certain sign of this hope is the announcement made by Benita Ferrero-Waldner after her visit to Baghdad yesterday. She said that a European Commission representation will soon be set up in the Iraqi capital and that this should happen within the month.

Ferrero-Waldner made her lightning visit to Baghdad accompanied by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the foreign ministers of Luxembourg and Britain. The foreign minister represented, respectively, the current and upcoming EU presidencies.

Overall, Ferrero-Waldner described the visit as a success. She said the EU delegation had been clearly told Iraq welcomes its engagement and assistance.

“We were very well received, as I said, and there is no mistaking that there is a strong wish of the Iraqis to see the European Union fully engaged and also present in Baghdad,” Ferrero-Waldner said.

The Commission hopes to locate its office in the heavily guarded “Green Zone.” The mission will initially be relatively small. Ferrero-Waldner said her first priority is to establish regular channels for political contacts with the Iraqi authorities.

The EU delegation met the Iraqi president, prime minister, and the speaker of the country’s parliament, as well as the head of the commission drafting Iraq’s new constitution.

Ferrero-Waldner said the EU will continue providing Iraq with generous financial assistance. The EU has earmarked more than 500 million euros ($609 million) in aid since the end of the war, of which 318 million euros have been spent.

The remainder, roughly 200 million euros, now awaits the unveiling of Iraq’s own priorities at an international conference in Brussels on 21-22 June, co-hosted by the EU and the United States.

The EU is also offering to train Iraqi officials involved in a wide field of institutions. Ferrero-Waldner said today the EU will soon send a “rule of law” mission to train senior officials in Iraqi law enforcement structures.

“It will be a rather small team at the beginning, but indeed we want to train [up to], more or less, 700 police officers and also judges. So I think the magnitude of what we will be doing will be quite an important one,” Ferrero-Waldner said.
“We were very well received, as I said, and there is no mistaking that there is a strong wish of the Iraqis to see the European Union fully engaged and also present in Baghdad.”

Later, other ministries and institutions will benefit from similar programmes.

The EU has also offered Iraq assistance in drawing up its new constitution. Ferrero-Waldner said the EU considers the process an important opportunity to bring the country’s Sunni minority into the political process. Sunnis overwhelmingly boycotted the elections of the interim parliament earlier this year.

The commissioner said the Sunni leaders the EU delegation had met had held “different opinions.” However, she said she had encountered “overall” agreement that Sunnis must participate in the political process.

Ferrero-Waldner said this will be one of the key EU policy aims in Iraq.

“What we want is a most inclusive process and a process where we think everything can be done in order to foment and promote reconciliation, and this goes for all the factions. Therefore I think it is so important to bring many Sunnis into this constitutional process,” Ferrero-Waldner said.

Ferrero-Waldner also said the EU wants the timetable for the new constitution respected, saying 15 August remains a credible deadline for completing its writing. She said this is essential if the country is to be able to proceed with its completely free and democratic elections later this year.