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Your Highness the Emir of Kuwait,
Prime Minister al-Abadi,
Secretary General, dear friends,
Thank you for the opportunity to co-chair and open this Conference together with you. I see it not just as a recognition of the European Union’s contribution in the last few year, but first and foremost as a responsibility for the future.
It is a responsibility to keep accompanying the Iraqi people in this moment – an incredibly delicate moment, and at the same time a moment of great hope for Iraq but also for the region.
As we meet here in Kuwait - and let me join the UN Secretary General on his acknowledgment of the fundamental role that Kuwait has played in the humanitarian efforts and in building bridges-, our common region is far from peaceful. Some old conflicts are not settled yet, and new dangerous tensions are arising.
But Iraq today gives us hope. If we go back with the memories to just three years ago, the rise of Daesh seemed almost impossible to stop. Yet here we are, celebrating the liberation of Mosul and a new beginning for Iraq.
An old proverb says that “victory has a thousand fathers”. And indeed, we must acknowledge everyone’s contribution to the territorial defeat of Daesh in Iraq.
But this victory, that needs to be consolidated, would not be possible without the people and the government of Iraq. We wouldn’t be here without the sacrifice of so many Iraqi soldiers, the leadership of Prime Minister al-Abadi, the daily work of his government, and the resilience of millions of ordinary Iraqis. If Iraq is now turning the page, it is first and foremost thanks to its own people, its men and women. This victory belongs to you, and at the same time, it can bring some much-needed hope to an entire region.
Your story tells us that victory against terrorism is indeed possible. That after years of conflict, peace is still possible. Iraq shows that the path towards an inclusive and diverse democracy can be fraught with obstacles, but it’s a path worth walking.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t see the challenges ahead. We do, and that’s why we are here today. Again let me thank Kuwait for making this possible, and for being a force for peace and dialogue in our troubled region, and troubled times.
The first and most urgent contribution we can give is to make sure that the dark days of Iraq are gone for good. We want to consolidate the achievements that the Iraqi people have managed to build, and help you “win the peace”, after you managed to win the war against Daesh.
This is what we mean by stabilisation. We want life to flow back into the Iraqi cities and the countryside. We want to address the Iraqi people’s urgent needs, as a solid foundation for reconstruction.
One third of the Iraqi people need urgent support. The internally displaced need food and healthcare, their children need teachers and a good education, and we know they all want to go back to their homes as soon as possible, restarting a normal life.
We Europeans have always been and we will continue to be on your side, with the Iraqi people.
Together with the United Nations, we have helped bring electricity, clean water and medicines to the liberated areas.
We have demined schools in Ramadi, so that six thousand kids could go back to their studies – and we are now doing the same in other parts of the country.
We are training the Iraqi security forces with our military staff and with a European civilian mission – so that the people of Iraq can rely on professional policemen to guarantee their security, in the full respect of their fundamental rights. And I am particularly proud to say that in Iraq for the first time, our security work also focuses on protection of cultural heritage.
Supporting these urgent needs is a moral duty, but it is also a way to keep hope alive. Hope that a better future is not just possible, but is already happening.
In the last three years, the European Union and its Member States have invested three-and-a-half billions euros in support of the people of Iraq. Today, as the EU, we are finalising our internal procedures to invest an additional 400 million euros in humanitarian, development and stabilisation actions. This comes from the European institution’s budget, that means on top of individual contributions from our Member States.
This is also to support the goal we have set with our new Strategy for Iraq, to complete stabilisation and begin the reconstruction of the country.
The Iraqi government has made very clear what kind of reconstruction the country needs. The physical reconstruction of Iraq will clearly require a great collective effort, a lot of resources and private investment. But reconstruction is not just about buildings, roads and rails. We also need and want to help Iraq rebuild its education system, its institutions and its society.
The government has already engaged in the institutional reconstruction of Iraq, and I want to commend Prime Minister al-Abadi and its government for this. It has started to fight corruption and to improve the country’s business environment. This is as essential as investment, to rebuild the country’s economy. So our support will also focus on improving public finance management, and good governance in all fields.
Part of this institutional work will require to overcome the tensions between Baghdad and Erbil – let me join my voice to the one of the UN Secretary General expressing hope and high expectations for the ongoing dialogue.
This leads me to the third kind of reconstruction that Iraq needs – and that is social reconstruction. Despite years of conflict, there is still a strong common identity that binds together the people of Iraq who first and foremost are Iraqis. That is still the most effective antidote to radicalisation and to ensuring that the territorial defeat of Daesh is consolidating into the defeat of its ideology.
It is an identity that has been shaped through centuries of shared history, and it is based on a common culture that goes far beyond faith and ethnicity. It is a plural identity that unites Arabs and Kurds, Muslims and Christians, Sunni and Shia.
The rise of Daesh has not marked the end of Iraq. On the contrary, people from all communities and all parts of the country have finally united for a common purpose. The territorial defeat of Daesh can be the opportunity for the rise of a new Iraq, where all communities truly share an inclusive Iraqi identity.
The goal of reconstruction is to build a country that works for everyone, and where everyone can find their place and feel at home. A reconstruction that works for all Iraqi people, beyond their ethnicity, their faith, their social background and gender.
The people of Iraq are asking for an inclusive democracy; they ask for security and justice; they ask for jobs, healthcare and education. This is what we hear from them – from the people we meet in our daily work as European Union, and from the representatives of civil society that have been involved in this process.
A reconstruction that works for everyone must focus on the students and the unemployed, on young people and on women. It needs to give them the skills they need, and help them pursue their aspirations.
It may sound overly ambitious, but recent stories tell us that being ambitious sometimes deliver good results. We need to start looking beyond physical reconstruction, if we want physical reconstruction to succeed. Investing in infrastructure is essential: so is investing in human capital. We have the duty and the responsibility to focus on the Iraqi people, on men, women, children, and on their personal development, to build the foundations of Iraq’s future growth.
There is hope in today’s Iraq. Hope that the Iraq’s best days are ahead of us. Hope that reconstruction can deliver on the Iraqi people’s aspirations.
We are here to answer to this hope altogether - and as European Union, you can always count on us- and to keep it alive for Iraq, for the Middle East, and for the whole of us.