Alex Pigman, AFP
Last updated: 12 August, 2014

EU boosts aid to Iraq, but says access is key

EU envoys on Tuesday praised US efforts to halt a deadly jihadist advance across huge parts Iraq as the European Commission boosted aid to help desperate civilians in the war-torn country.

The envoys met during an extraordinary meeting in Brussels in an effort to better coordinate the response by member states to a crisis the EU’s executive called the world’s most pressing emergency.

“EU member states welcomed the efforts by the US and partners to stop the Islamic State advance and facilitate access for humanitarian support,” a statement from the EU foreign service said at the end of the meeting.

The talks were urgently assembled after key EU powers Italy and France earlier in the week demanded bolder EU action on Iraq.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Tuesday made a forceful proposal that colleagues cut short vacations to decide measures, including military ones, to aid Kurdish Iraqis fighting off the Islamic State onslaught.

But though the post-meeting statement said there was unanimous agreement on the need for urgent and increased humanitarian support, there was no call for a foreign minister meeting which would be needed for any major coordinated action by bloc countries.

EU sources told AFP that even though member states were open to assembling ministers in the heart of summer, with divisions wide over whether the bloc as a whole should expressly support the arming of Iraqi forces, the decision was delayed for now.

In the statement, the EU external service, which is headed by Catherine Ashton, said only that meeting participants “noted the urgent request by the Kurdish regional authorities to certain member states for military support”, while “stressing the importance of coordination with international partners” on the matter.

Earlier, EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva announced the boost to the EU’s aid to Iraq, though she stressed access, not funds, was the real challenge.

With the increase, aid to Iraq from Brussels now totals 17 million euros ($22.8 million) for the year, which the commissioner acknowledged was a far cry from the $500 million pledged by Saudi Arabia last month.

“This is to help hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including minority groups displaced on the mountains of Sinjar,” Georgieva said in reference to the desperate civilians who had been besieged by jihadists on a mountain in northern Iraq.

The commissioner warned that “the spread of extremism around the world has meant more restriction to access” with “last resort” air drops often left as the only option.

“On this, the world is moving backwards,” she said.

Georgieva said the Iraq crisis was the most urgent problem facing the planet today, despite a multitude of emergencies unfurling at a “magnitude not known since the great wars in Europe”.

When asked if bolder moves were needed in Iraq, Georgieva, who is on the short-list to replace Ashton later this year, said humanitarian agencies could only provide “seed money” in the face of such challenges.

“I fully understand that humanitarian aid can only go that far,” Georgieva said.

“It’s like a plaster on a wound,” she said, adding it was dangerous for humanitarians to meddle outside their mandate and risk putting their own political neutrality under threat.

Georgieva also said the decision by Russia to send a humanitarian convoy to eastern Ukraine was strictly a “Russian decision”.

Any assistance to eastern Ukraine must meet strict international standards of neutrality, she said.

The statement from the envoy meeting, which also discussed Gaza and Ukraine, reiterated the point, calling for the “full respect of international humanitarian law and principles” and “the clear consent of Ukrainian authorities.”