Koenders meets with Iraqi government to discuss future of Iraq

On Sunday foreign minister Bert Koenders met in Baghdad with the Iraqi prime minister, Haider Al-Abadi, and foreign minister, Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, to discuss the future of Iraq and the major challenges it faces. Mr Koenders stressed the need for a post-ISIS strategy in order to ward off the danger of incessant violence, ethnic tensions and oppression, and thus diminish the attendant risks of extremism, attacks and further emigration.

The meeting was part of a joint visit by the Benelux foreign ministers to Iraq. One of the international community’s main concerns is whether the country is prepared to deal with the consequences of the eventual collapse of ISIS.

‘The focus now is on defeating ISIS militarily, but this will only be sustainable if we also address stabilisation, reconstruction and reconciliation, including governmental and economic reform,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘This is also good for the Netherlands, since we have common interests when it comes to fighting terrorism. The repercussions of ISIS’s reign of terror have also been felt in Europe.’ The foreign minister also spoke with Mr Al-Abadi and Mr Al-Jaafari about the complex regional situation, including the Syrian conflict.

The last time Mr Koenders visited Iraq was 2014. At that time, large swaths of the country were in the hands of ISIS, including major cities like Tikrit, Ramadi and Fallujah. Though the battle for the liberation of Mosul is still raging, most of the country is now back in the hands of the Iraqi authorities.

‘In view of the impending liberation of Mosul, the Iraqi authorities now need to do everything in their power to create and maintain lasting stability,’ said Mr Koenders. ‘I urged the prime minister and the foreign minister to learn from what happened in Fallujah and Ramadi after those cities were freed. I’m talking about things like taking care of displaced persons and ensuring their return; I’m talking about reconstruction, reconciliation and Iraqi unity. This is all necessary if we are to avoid the risk that violence, terrorism and extremism could once more destabilise the country.’

Mr Koenders believes the Iraqi government, with the help of the international community, is doing a great deal to resettle the millions of displaced persons, to rebuild the country and to safeguard stability. The Netherlands is also doing its part in these effects: providing military training, material assistance for Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers, and financial support for demining projects and the reception of displaced persons.

The Netherlands is also making a major contribution to a stabilisation programme to facilitate the return of displaced persons. In 2016 one million Iraqi returned to their home towns and villages, thanks to an investment of almost €90 million, €22 of which was provided by the Netherlands. ‘Of course, many cities and villages have been devastated by the fighting, and ethnic and religious tensions do not disappear overnight. Despite that, people need to be able to return to their homes. This fosters reconciliation and limits migration,’ said Mr Koenders.

At the same time, the minister observed, there also is still a lot of work to be done. ‘Change must come from within, and this responsibility mainly falls to the Iraqi government. The Netherlands stands ready in the years ahead to support the Iraqis in their efforts.’