EU mission in Iraq (EUAM) on ‘stand-by’. An order coming from Brussels (v2)

(B2 – exclusive) The EU Internal Security Advisory Mission (EUAM Iraq) in Baghdad has been instructed to be discreet, according to our informations. It is not suspending its activities, but slowing down

Officially, no changes

Asked about it on Monday (6 January) at the daily press briefing, the EU High Representative spokesman Peter Stano did not want to confirm this ‘dormancy’: “At this stage we havent made any decisions regarding the ongoing activities of the EU in whatever field we are engaged in Irak to either suspend them, downscale them or change them“. But he acknowledged that measures were under consideration and that priority would be given to the safety of personnel. “We are following and watching the situation very closely and assessing the situation because in the end it’s about the security of our people“.

Please do not return to Iraq now

In reality, the situation is quite different. The management of the European External Action Service (EEAS) has told its personnel on the ground to only do the trips that are absolutely necessary. Any departure or arrival at the airport is suspended.  To the personnel who had left for the Christmas and New Year holidays and had not yet returned, instruction has been given to postpone their return. This instruction is apparently being followed, and even anticipated, by some countries. 

The Brits… exit

The British have already been instructed to tiptoe their way out of the mission (or not to return after the Christmas and New Year holidays). Too risky after the American raid on Iranian General Q. Soleimani and the militia leader. Similarly, according to our information, the only Dutch person present in the mission has postponed his planned return to Baghdad. Same for the Canadian et many other nationalities. Actually, compared to the normal contingent of fifty people, only thirty of them are in office, twenty of them are ‘not on the ground’.

Rough start for Christopher Buik

For the new Head of Mission, German policeman Christopher Buik, who officially took up his duties at the beginning of January (read: Relais allemand à la tête de la mission EUAM Iraq. Berlin entend garder des postes d’influence), the start is rough. He may have to quickly manage a mission that is doomed to remain confined to secure locations and to suffer frayed withdrawals.

PSC meeting on Iraq

EU ambassadors of the Political and Security Committee (PSC) had a meeting to discuss the situation in Iraq (1) this Tuesday (7 January) in restricted format (ambassador + 1 adviser). Among the topics discussed was the question of the continuation of the mission and if so, in what format. A discussion (a short one on EUAM based on our early informations), which will be pursued in the future. A strategic review of the mission is indeed ongoing et is expected to bear fruit in next spring. The current mandate finished on the 17th April. (read : article to follow)

Comment: For the EU, to suspend or withdraw this mission today would be a mistake. Through this mission they can weigh and be close to one of the main frames of the Iraqi State: the internal security forces. It will take all the diplomatic skill of the representatives on the ground to explain that the EU’s political position is not quite the same as that of the Americans. This is a very delicate task, especially when statements by high-ranking European officials, such as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, suggest the opposite (read: La Commission européenne réunie mercredi sur l’Irak. L’Europe doit parler à tout le monde (Von der Leyen)).

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1.   This is the only item on the agenda. The Libyan question which was also to be raised (read Carnet 06.01.2020) was postponed to a later date.

Updated on 13th January with details on the given instructions and with a restructuration of the article for a better comprehension

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Rédacteur en chef du site B2. Diplômé en droit européen de l'université Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne et auditeur 65e session IHEDN (Institut des hautes études de la défense nationale. Journaliste depuis 1989, fonde B2 - Bruxelles2 en 2008. Correspondant UE/OTAN à Bruxelles pour Sud-Ouest (auparavant Ouest-France et France-Soir).