mercredi 27 février 2008

The European Union's Role in Iraq

BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union has failed to improve the situation in Iraq despite committing more than €800 million (US$1.2 billion) to reconstruction efforts since 2003, a European Parliament report said Wednesday.

The report by the assembly's foreign affairs committee called for the EU to expand its presence in the country, operate on the ground in the Kurdish region, among others, and boost its operations in Basra and Erbil.

"Europe can do much more and much better, namely by ... considerably expanding its presence on the ground and by finding more creative ways to use its resources," said the report, which will now be discussed by the 785-member EU assembly.

It also urged Iraq to seek closer talks with its neighbors over improving stability in the region.

The report came as EU and Iraqi negotiators announced they had made progress in talks to reach a deal on a trade and cooperation.

"I am sure that during this year, we will finish with the agreement," said Deputy Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Hamoud Bidan.

EU officials said they had agreed to terms of the agreement with the Iraqis on transport and human rights, notably that Iraq will sign up to the treaty that set up the International Criminal Court.

The agreement would be the first contractual agreement between Iraq and the EU since the 2003 invasion that deeply divided the 27-nation bloc.

Under the deal, the EU and Iraq would free up trade and extend EU cooperation in areas such as human rights, anti-terrorism, energy, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the environment.

The closer ties will also offer Iraq more development aid. The next round of talks are planned for June 25.

The EU has spent €818 million (US$1.22 billion) on reconstruction since 2003, in addition to individual contributions from the 27 member states.

EU lawmakers recommended that aid be channeled into justice, human rights, financial and budget management, health and education. They also called for strengthened border controls that would reduce the flow of weapons into the country and for a legally binding EU code of conduct on arms exports.

The EU should improve the possibilities for Iraqis to find refuge in its member states and scrap "arbitrary criteria to granting protection and prevent any forced return," the report said.

Some 40,000 Iraqi refugees were expected to reach the EU in 2007, double the number in 2006 — itself twice as many as in 2005.

Associated Press Writer Jan Sliva contributed to this story.

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