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(interview) Stephen White (EU): we must support the Iraqi rule of law

(B2) This year will be a decisive year for Iraq. With the change in status of the American army, from a liberation/occupation force, and its gradual withdrawal, we will be able to verify whether the conditions of relative stability which have marked these last months will hold.

As an observer from the region told me, this success can be attributed to five factors: “ more troops on the ground, improving the security capacity of Iraqi troops, integrating certain pro Al Qaeda Sunni groups into the council, securing by closing (or limiting) the 'Iranian tap', the ceasefire -fire with the Mehdi army.” « The problem - added my interlocutor – is that these five factors are reversible. This year will therefore be decisive. »

A remark which convinced me of the need to take a look – despite more glaring news in other parts of the globe (Congo, Somalia, Palestine) – at this European Union mission in Iraq, called EUJUST Lex. A civilian mission led, since its establishment in July 2005, by the British Stephen White, which consists of training Iraqi police officers, magistrates and prison guards (more than 1900 have already been trained during 80 sessions). We had agreed to meet for some time. This was done before Christmas. In a secure Council building (where the military committee also sits and a stone's throw from the Belgian royal barracks) where he has established his offices. Interview…

Stephen White is originally from Northern Ireland, where he rose through the ranks of the police force to the position of Deputy Chief. He has carried out several training operations in developing countries (Mongolia for example). His presence in Iraq dates back to 2003. From July 2003 to January 2004, he worked there as Director of Law and Order and Senior Police Advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority, based in Basra. In December 2004 and January 2005, he was part of the team of EU experts sent to Iraq and recommended measures to support the rule of law.

Stephen White (credit: Council of the EU)

PWhy did you come to Iraq?

I believe I had something to offer, assistance in conflict resolution, my experience of conflict, training also when I was responsible for it for the whole of the UK police force.

VOur experience in Northern Ireland must have helped you. What lesson did you particularly learn?

We have learned a lot in Northern Ireland, indeed, about the conduct to be taken towards the population, about the importance of having a local police force, integrated into society. Attention ! We are not in the same situation. But there are points that can be useful. The biggest mistake, in my opinion, would be to make soldiers play a police role. We must therefore have specific training and a separate organization for the police. The police must live and be a part of society. This is the main lesson that I learned and that we try to apply here.

You have several years of presence, how does this experience feel?

I was, in fact, the first foreign police officer in the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein. And I'm starting my sixth year in Iraq. It's a challenge... Personally, professionally I have seen so much effort, so much blood around us too - a bodyguard injured in an attack, an Irish police officer injured -, so much sadness, that we must help this country. In Iraq, there are really people, very motivated, who want to do things. And I see the result too. This mission created a unanimous feeling between the 27, and also a partnership of the different administrations concerned (judicial police, prisons) of the Member States which are not necessarily used to working together in their country. There we are all mobilized together.

However, not all Member States had the same opinion on the intervention in Iraq?

Indeed, Europe was strongly divided, between pro and anti-intervention. But at the same time, there was a need to stabilize Iraq, to ​​send a political signal. This may be one of the reasons for the mission. Given the political situation, EU aid could not be military aid, but crisis management aid. When the project for a “Rule of law” mission which aims to restore human rights, police services, judges, etc., was presented, there was unanimity around the government table. We had action, on a common basis, on a neutral position. And everyone agreed to that.

You don't think that the American and allied intervention has created another problem?

No. I do not agree. To say that the problem started with the Americans is not accurate. Saddam Hussein had destroyed a large part of the infrastructure.

What do you think the EU position should be in Iraq today?

The EU and internationals must support the moderates. We must fight terrorism and extremism. Second, enable reconciliation, build health and education infrastructure. We must not lose sight of the fact that the country's economic development is only possible with security. I remain convinced of this.

For you, this mission therefore contributes to the construction of a free Iraq?

Yes, undeniably. The European Union's mission is modest, it does not claim to solve everything. And we are a small part of a larger context: the restoration of the rule of law in Iraq. But it has significant importance. And, above all, it has proven its effectiveness not only for Iraq but also for the Member States. I now hope that it continues and develops.

e develop, that is to say?

The mission will further strengthen the judicial system. You have to integrate the whole chain – from arrest to prosecution. It's ambitious. This means more courses for more people. Specific courses centered on certain particular themes: public order, prisons, women, young people, organized crime.

What training do you bring ?

Our desire is not to do theory, but to bring practice, our good practices, to a few areas. We therefore have a program of visits and practical demonstrations for police officers and judges. We therefore organized prison visits in Italy, emphasizing the need to reintegrate and provide psychological support to prisoners, not just to punish, but to prepare for release. This probably seems obvious in Europe. This is not easy given the state of the Iraqi prison system and the way it was designed under Saddam Hussein.

And does it work?

We can't do it like that (he snaps his fingers). That takes time. It's a long-term strategy. But I meet professionals, of very good level, who understand the need for human rights. We need such staff, well trained, well educated.

Does the EU need an agreement with the Iraqi government like the Americans have just signed?

We don't need a SOFA (troop protection agreement) type agreement. Our initiative is carried out with Iraqi personnel. The letter of May 26, 2005 that we received from the Iraqi Prime Minister is sufficient (NB: it gives members of the mission the usual diplomatic privileges and immunities according to the Vienna Convention).

VYou reprise the theme of the seem optimistic about the future of Iraq?

Yes. I remain optimistic, for a lot of good reasons. Iraq has had a truly bloody history in recent years. But we can't help but see that there is fantastic progress. Every day, I see it. We see a certain regained normality in Baghdad. The electricity works. Traffic returns. The police and the army – month after month – return to a level. At the political level, the reconciliation process underway is moving in the right direction. And in recent weeks we have seen security improve significantly. From 170 attacks, we went to ten per week. Now everything is not certain. We must pay attention to this development; there may be new attacks.

Ultimate question…The missions of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) are developing today, how do you see this development?

Above all, ESDP missions are becoming more sophisticated – in the size of the mission, the mandate entrusted to them, the diversity of people found there. When this starts, the EU has a real chance of success.

(comment collected by Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(photo: Council of the European Union, EUJUST Lex mission)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

One thought on “(interview) Stephen White (EU): we must support the Iraqi rule of law"

  • Frederic

    It is very rare that we find information in French on this operation in our media. Good luck and good luck for those participating in this difficult challenge.

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