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Iraq: EU Pushes For Quick Takeover Of Security Responsibilities

An Iraqi police patrol in Al-Basrah Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, said today in the European Parliament in Strasbourg that he supports a quick handover of security responsibilities in Iraq to the country’s own forces. Britain, together with the United States, provides the bulk of foreign troops in Iraq. It also acts as the EU presidency for the next six months. However, Straw indicated Iraq was not ready to replace the multinational coalition fully, and he also cast doubt on the willingness of other countries to supply peacekeepers to act in Iraq under a UN mandate.

Strasbourg, 6 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- A sovereign Iraq in charge of its own security is clearly a prospect shared by all EU member states.

However, most of them also share the perception that Iraq’s security forces are not up to the task. This perception has been particularly reinforced in recent days by a spate of attacks on Arab diplomats in the country. They have so far culminated in the kidnapping of the recently appointed Egyptian envoy earlier this week.

Speaking before the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he agrees with the widely held view in the EU that coalition forces should leave Iraq as soon as possible.

“Let me say as [a representative] of one of what was the two formal occupying powers in Iraq -- United States and United Kingdom -- [and] someone with his own personal responsibility for the war, that we share this aspiration: leave aside the arguments of the past, all of us believe that the quicker the Iraqis are able to take on responsibility for their own security, the better [and] the quicker the coalition forces will then be able to leave,” Straw said.

Straw was responding to a report on the future of EU-Iraqi relations, compiled by a Greek deputy, Giorgios Dimitrakopoulos, that was later debated in the parliament.

Introducing his report, Dimitrakopoulos said that the security situation in Iraq can only be improved by bringing the country’s own forces to a “truly operational level.” He added that it is “critical” that the coalition forces be replaced as soon as possible with UN peacekeepers.

Straw said he agrees that security is the key to the development of Iraq, noting that there is “no disguising” the situation is serious.

He said the EU condemns all forms of violence in Iraq, particularly the recent attacks on foreign diplomats. In recent days, insurgents have kidnapped the newly adopted Egyptian ambassador to Iraq and ambushed senior Bahraini and Pakistani diplomats.

Straw praised the progress made in training Iraq’s new security forces which, he said, now number some 168,000. However, he repeated his assessment that the overall security situation remains poor. He said the current mandate for the presence of coalition forces runs out at the end of the year, adding that they would stay only if invited to do so by Iraqi authorities.

Straw also cast doubt on the willingness of other countries to contribute peacekeepers to a possible UN force to take over from the coalition. He said, however, that a UN security role is “no problem in principle” for Britain.

Straw said that earlier disagreements among EU countries about the war in Iraq are a matter of record, and that “strongly held views on both sides remain.” However, he said, all sides are no looking to the future and are contributing to the stability of Iraq.

Straw said an EU “rule of law” mission, formally launched yesterday, is a prime example of shared EU will to improve security in Iraq.

“That mission began training Iraqi police, judiciary, and penitentiary officials yesterda and is making a valuable contribution to the Iraqi government’s efforts to increase its authority and to entrench the rule of law,” Straw said.

Straw reiterated an EU offer to provide assistance to the ongoing effort of drafting a new constitution for Iraq. He said the EU will also send an observer mission to the December elections.

The EU’s external relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, speaking after Straw, said there are three main prerequisites for addressing the underlying causes of continued insecurity in Iraq. These include a broad-based, inclusive constitutional process, creating an environment where reconstruction brings visible result and the constructive cooperation of the country’s neighbours.

Ferrero-Waldner said the role played by Iraq’s neighbours is especially significant.

“I think it is one of the prerequisites that especially the neighbours will more and more contribute because they will play, really, a central [role] to shift the balance in the region,” Ferrero-Waldner said.

Ferrero-Waldner said that all of Iraq’s neighbours have committed themselves to this goal “in principle,” but noted that “it remains to be seen” if these commitments will be implemented.