Delegation of the European Union to Iraq

Iraq and the EU

10/05/2016 - 14:16
EU relations with Country

Relations between Iraq and the EU are based on two agreements covering cooperation and assistance. Iraq is an important partner for the EU because of its geopolitical position in the Middle East and its proximity to the EU.

The EU-Iraq relationship is underpinned by two bilateral agreements: the Memorandum of Understanding on Energy Cooperation, signed in 2010, and the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), signed in 2012. The first is a framework for cooperation in the field of energy while the second deals with a wider range of issues including counter-terrorism and trade.

War and internal conflicts have led to a lot of turmoil in Iraq in recent years. The EU has given assistance by providing humanitarian aid, developing political and electoral processes, promoting human rights and the rule of law, developing civil society organisations, and providing basic services such as water supply, health and education.

Bilateral Agreements

The bilateral agreements aim to support Iraq’s reform and development and its integration into the wider international community:

  • The Memorandum of Understanding on Energy Cooperation (January 2010): This agreement creates a framework for improving and developing energy relations between the EU and Iraq. It covers such issues as Iraq's energy policy, securing energy supplies, renewable energy, energy efficiency and improving technological, scientific and industrial cooperation.
  • The Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (2012): The PCA is the main tool for the EU’s support to Iraq. It provides a legal framework for improving ties and cooperation in a wide range of areas. These include political issues, counter-terrorism, trade, human rights, health, education and the environment.

Political Context

Organisational structure

Iraq is a republic with a democratically elected government. Its constitution commits the government to democratic principles and to enforcing human rights. Iraq has 18 provinces and one region (Kurdistan), and Islam is the state religion.


Iraq faces many political, security and socio-economic challenges. Several aspects of its internal organisation are hotly debated, including the degree of federalism, the status of Kirkuk, the drawing of internal boundaries, and the sharing of resources.

Historical context

Iraq has experienced turmoil since the 1980s. Recent significant events include:

  • 2003: US-led Multi-National Force (MNF-I) overthrew Saddam Hussein, leading to several years of political volatility, sectarian violence and population movements
  • June 2004: The Coalition Provincial Authority (CPA) transferred the powers to an interim Iraqi Government
  • January 2005: National elections established the Transitional National Assembly
  • October 2005: A referendum passed the constitution
  • December 2005: General election
  • May 2006: First elected post-Saddam Iraqi Government was formed
  • 2009: Significant improvements were made in the security situation and reduced sectarian violence
  • 2009: The UN Security Council (UNSC) mandate for Multinational Forces in Iraq (MNF-I) ended
  • 2009: A security agreement was made with the US
  • January 2009: Provincial elections
  • June 2009: Kurdistan regional elections
  • March 2010: General election

Partnership and Cooperation Agreement

Negotiations were launched in November 2006. During the seventh round, the status of the Agreement was upgraded from one on Trade and Cooperation to a more comprehensive Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which provides for annual Ministerial meetings and the creation of a Cooperation Council.

On 13 November 2009, the European Commission and Iraq successfully finalised negotiations on the text of the PCA which will mark the first ever contractual relation between the EU and Iraq. Its signing took place in 2012.

In substance, the PCA established a comprehensive legal framework for enhancing ties and cooperation in a wide range of areas from political matters and counter-terrorism (political dialogue on bilateral, regional and global issues) to promoting human rights and trade in key areas such as energy and services. Concerning trade, the PCA is a non-preferential agreement that incorporates basic WTO rules with substantial market access to the EU and some preferential elements in public procurement, services and investments. It also sets out a framework for continuing cooperation in other areas, such as health, education and environment.

The objective of this Agreement is also to support Iraq’s own vital reform and development efforts and facilitate its integration into the wider international economy. The negotiation process underlines the EU’s determination to play a significant role in Iraq’s transition. The Agreement constitutes the main vehicle for the EU’s support to Iraq and further enhancement of EU-Iraq relations.

The EU Delegation is helping to spread knowledge of Iraqi art and culture, to increase understanding and recognition of Iraq and its people.

As security has improved in Iraq, cultural activities have increased. These have also become recognised as a good way to bridge and resolve social differences, and provide an environment where the cultural objective is more important than any political message. This has been pursued through various cultural activities, including classical music, football, painting and rap dancing.

EU Film Festivals

Starting in 2015, an annual EU film festival has been held in Iraq:

  • 1st EU Film Festival, May 2015: This featured films from 14 EU countries. Its aim was to present the richness and diversity of the film industries of EU countries, and to provide a forum for reflection and dialogue as well as a chance to meet with civil society, artists and students of film academies in Iraq.
  • 2nd EU Film Festival, May 2016: From 15 to 22 May 2016, 15 European films from 14 EU countries as well as six Kurdish short feature films will be screened in Sulaimaniyah in the Kurdistan Region.

In recent years, Iraq has experienced unprecedented population displacements due to war and internal conflicts, resulting in hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries. This has put considerable strain on communities and services, both inside and outside Iraq.

European Commission Activities

The European Commission, in particular through its Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), provides substantial amounts of humanitarian aid for Iraqi people in need, both those within Iraq and refugees living outside its borders. It works alongside several humanitarian organisations, including United Nations (UN) agencies, various non-government organisations (NGOs) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The Commission aims to ensure that displaced Iraqis, returnees and other vulnerable groups have access to basic needs and services, such as food, clean water, shelter, education and healthcare. These objectives are made harder since many areas are dangerous or inaccessible for international organisations due to the security situation.

Aid for Conflict-affected People inside Iraq

The hardships experienced by conflict-affected and vulnerable groups in Iraq have increased since 2003, as many of these people have limited access to employment and to basic services such as water supplies, sanitation, healthcare and education. Commission-sponsored aid includes basic medical care, water trucking and rehabilitation of water and sanitation systems across Iraq.

Aid for Iraqi Refugees in Neighbouring Countries

The Commission assigns substantial funds to help Iraqi refugees who have crossed into Syria, Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. These are used to provide basic healthcare, psychosocial assistance and the distribution of food and essential household items.

The Commission also provides specific support for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) core mandate of protection. This is particularly important in identifying the most vulnerable groups and determining their specific needs.

Since 2003, the European Commission has been the third largest development partner of Iraq, after the US and Japan. This has concerned longer-term issues than the humanitarian aid, specifically support for the electoral process, human rights and the rule of law, and the development of Iraqi civil society organisations and basic services.

The European Commission is one of 25 members of the donor committee of the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq (IRFFI), which is put into effect by the UN and the World Bank. The IRFFI was set up to direct the support for reconstruction and development in Iraq. The IRFFI's donor committee oversees its activities.

Supporting the Electoral Process

Since 2004, the European Commission has initiated several programmes to support the electoral process in Iraq, in particular:

  • supporting the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) of Iraq to ensure that elections and referendums are smooth and transparent, and maximising voter participation;
  • deploying electoral experts to Iraq, to support the organisation of the different events;
  • increasing education and awareness regarding election-related matters among the Iraqi people.

Most of the assistance to the electoral process was put into effect through the UN arm of the IRFFI. The Commission's contribution was pooled with those of other donors to fund projects to help the Iraqi Government ensure that electoral activities are open and cost-efficient.

A significant number of projects are making a considerable positive difference to the electoral process in Iraq, such as empowering women and young people in the electoral process, providing electoral observation and media monitoring, and promoting professional election reporting.

Promoting Human Rights and the Rule of Law

The European Commission works with organisations like the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to promote human rights and the rule of law.

Human rights issues include the conditions in prisons and supporting victims of torture.

Strengthening the rule of law is a priority for the Iraqi Government and is central to creating conditions for national reconciliation and reconstruction. Support programmes include providing technical assistance to institutions in the rule of law sector, such as courts.

Developing Civil Society Organisations

The Commission cooperates with the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and similar organisations to assist in developing the capacity of civil institutions. The aim is to establish a modern Iraqi administration based on the principles of democracy, good governance and accountability.

Supporting Basic Services

Providing support to develop basic services in Iraq is a key focus for the Commission. These services includes:

  • Water and sanitation: Assistance for a wide range of projects to monitor and improve the quantity and quality of water supplies, including improving the operation and management of water and sanitation systems, and buying specialised equipment and supplies.
  • Health: Support to the primary healthcare system in Iraq, in particular through improving the infrastructure, constructing facilities, providing supplies and equipment, training staff and revising policies and strategies.
  • Education: Support to increase access to education, and to improve participation and completion at all levels, including repairing schools and providing books and equipment.
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