As war ebbs, Europe returns to Iraq
France and Germany opposed the US-led invasion but are now eyeing new investments in the war-torn country.
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In recent weeks, France and Germany, which Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of Defense, once chided as "Old Europe" for their opposition to the war, spearheaded Europe's forceful return to Baghdad. On separate visits with similar goals, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier swung through Baghdad. Their message was clear: As the danger subsides and the US scales back, Europe should move in quickly with money and know-how to rebuild everything from power stations, water systems, schools, and hospitals to roads and bridges.
"German companies should study the possibility of increasing their presence in Iraq, given the improvement in the security situation," Mr. Steinmeier said during his Feb. 17-18 visit. "We have seen a noticeable improvement in the area of security over the last couple of months."
Steinmeier is the second German government official to visit Iraq in recent months. His visit was preceded by Germany's former economics minister Michael Glos. But Steinmeier's visit, coupled with political meetings, was the first solid evidence of a shift in German foreign policy. And it is an indication that Germany is now intent on reestablishing its once strong political and economic ties with Baghdad.
While some commentators have seen the European visits to Iraq as a sign of rivalry and heightened tension in transatlantic relations, others say Germany and France are both keen to play a greater role in Iraq reconstruction in order to show their support for the new US administration of President Obama and support their own agendas within the alliance.
"The German government is particularly interested in working closely and positively with the Obama administration," says Guido Steinberg, political analyst with the German Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr. Obama is urging US partners in NATO to play a greater role in fighting insurgent forces in Afghanistan. The Germans have some 3,650 troops in the country and last week announced they would send another 600 troops. Steinmeier's visit to Baghdad also sends a signal to Washington that Berlin has reached the limit of its military options in Afghanistan but can play a greater role in rebuilding Iraq.
"For the Germans, you have to see their engagement in Iraq in connection with Afghanistan," says Mr. Steinberg.
Against this political backdrop, Steinmeier set out to lay the groundwork for a long-term German engagement in Iraq. In addition to talks with Iraqi government officials on how Germany might help support the new democratic government in Baghdad by training police and teachers, for example, Steinmeier opened a business office, a clearinghouse for German companies hoping to do business in Iraq.