A report by Claire Yau on a special session in the House of Commons on Iraq’s economic and political future, focusing on the reconstruction and stabilisation of the region, hosted by the South-Asia and Middle East Forum
Chair of the South-Asia and Middle East Forum Khalid Nadeem opened the session to discuss the future of Iraq, and what current issues Iraq faces to its social and economic structure.
Tom Brake MP then discussed Brexit’s impact on the UK’s trade with Iraq. Iraq’s primary export is oil, which he highlighted is no longer a growing market for the UK given a gradual shift towards renewable energy. He stated that there remain issues around the security of trade, governance, corruption and infrastructure. Brake suggested that UK pharmaceutical companies can be useful to Iraq. He hopes that the government can resource this so trade can expand.
Deputy Head of Mission from the Embassy of Iraq, Nazar Mirjan Mohammed, identified the need for reconstruction and stabilisation to secure Iraq’s future. He noted that Islamic State has left over three million people displaced and caused high levels of destruction. Upon the defeat of Islamic State, the government of Iraq has proposed several steps. First, the local police secure the area. Second, removing mines and IEDs from these areas. Third, returning services that have been destroyed through conflict, including water, electricity, health services and schools. Mohammed claims that reconstruction must involve continued efforts to return displace people to their homes. He also underlined social and mental health issues, which affect those living in the era of Islamic State.
Jonathan Paris, Senior Advisor to the global advisory firm Chertoff Group, began by addressing the fighting between Kurdish and Iraqi forces at Kirkuk. He mentioned that the US alliance with the Kurds has protected them from attacks, and the Kurds are fighting alongside the US with Iraqis, in order to defeat Islamic State right now. Paris further emphasised the lack of a coherent strategy from the US, which has allowed Iran to further its political agenda. He also discussed recent meetings between the Iraqi President and both the Saudi King Salman and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Paris claimed that all Gulf countries have an important role to play in securing the future of Iraq’s security.
Brigadier Gareth Collett, Defence Attaché at the British Embassy in Iraq, then provided a military overview of the UK’s involvement in the fight against Islamic State. It is the UK’s third year in supporting Iraq in the fight against the group, and a number of provinces have been liberated since. He noted that around 4,000 British personnel support this operation and UK troops have trained over 6,000 members of Iraqi forces in medical techniques, and assist in engineering skills and logistics. Brigadier Collett emphasised that the threat posed by Islamic State is significant, and the UK will provide assistance to Iraq for as long as required. This includes assistance in intelligence cooperation, border security, forces training and protection of critical infrastructure.
Brigadier Collett went on to highlight the military strategy required for Iraq’s future. He claims that Islamic State can no longer hold ground and foresees that another insurgency will happen. It is therefore necessary to disrupt terror networks and deny sanctuary to any terror groups. He asserted that Iraqi forces must be capable of protecting key facilities, which include defending its capital Baghdad and protecting the sovereignty of oil fields in the Arabian Gulf. Finally, Brigadier Collett discussed the need for the international community to support immediate stabilisation efforts in all areas. He underlined that support to all these areas will be required far beyond liberation, and there must be active UK engagement to provide a safe space for those affected by the conflict.
Assistant Professor at King’s College London and Defence Academy-UK, Andreas Krieg, identified Iraq’s central problem as the lack of a key security sector. He said that the current security regime involves both formal and informal security sectors, making Iraq’s security sector a hybrid system.
Krieg alluded to weak politics within the country caused by the de Ba’athificiation in 2003. He claims one of the largest threats to Iraq’s stability is from tran-sectarianism between Sunni/Shia and Arab/Kurd relations. This involved building a state excluding people with institutional knowledge. Sunni Arabs have been victimised by Kurds, and they have used this as an opportunity to commit ethnic cleansing. He expressed that there are grievances and sentiments of victimhood experienced by different communities.
Krieg also insisted that there are structural weaknesses within Iraq that are not limited to sectarianism. There remains a lack of US and Western leadership in Iraq, and the Gulf could do more. There is no political strategy in place for Iraq after the defeat of Islamic State. Krieg identified this as the international community’s fundamental problem, and called for a strategy to be developed.
Nicole Piché, speaking on behalf of the Rt. Hon. Ann Clwyd as a Member of Foreign Affairs Committee, discussed the rights of minorities and women. She claimed that special focus should be made to stop ethnic cleansing of certain neighbourhoods. Piché called for all citizens to have access to state services on the basis of legitimate need and to be able to voice their concerns. This will provide a voice for those who are marginalised and affected. She believes that there is a lack of accountability, making peacebuilding and reconciliation a concern. Clear roles need to be established and opportunities must be taken to allow a consistent approach to the UK’s foreign policy about human rights.
Panellists welcomed questions from the audience that included diplomats, Kurdish party representatives, NGOs, media and students. Chairman Nadeem proposed the potential of a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Iraq. This was received positively by the panel but that multi-lateral involvement was necessary. Many emphasised the need for Iraq to be equipped with a political strategy after the defeat of Islamic State, with support from the international community, and an effective security strategy in place for Iraq.