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Following the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq can France play a greater role as Iraq struggles to emerge from invasion, occupation and civil war?
Iraq is a country, which is under going massive reconstruction and a place where security is a major concern. How does a diplomat operate in such a difficult situation?.
Denys Gauer, the French ambassador to Iraq, spoke to euronews reporter Aissa Boukanoun.
Aissa Boukanoun, euronews: “How do you define the role of an ambassador in a hostile environment?”
“The situation in Baghdad is unique and diplomats must be flexible, to be able to adapt to the world as they find it, as it is today. Here in Iraq the main problem is security. It is not as bad as it was in 2006/2007. Still, insecurity remains high and causes a number of problems. The first thing we need is a secure environment where we can work. A number of embassies are located in the ‘green zone’ a closed and secure area in central Baghdad.
“France decided to stay outside the ‘green zone’ and work in the real city, with real life, but this exposes us a little more. Then there is the problem of movement. This is where we are most vulnerable.To move an ambassador around we need a security setup this limits us and is a constraint. The role of the diplomat is, after all, to make contacts with companies and the apparatus of state. When your contacts are limited by cumbersome security arrangements it is a problem.”
euronews: “When you speak to people in Iraq do they listen when you speak about democracy, freedom and equality of opportunity?”
“I think so, I am struck by the openness and desire to learn from the people I speak with. Like I said, Iraq is under reconstruction. All those involved in the administration are very aware of the outside world. They know there country has suffered and must rise again. Iraqis look to French political experience, but also our social experience, in questions of religion for example or the organisation of civil society. I have contacts in the media and they are interested in any training we can give them. I think Iraq is a country that really wants to learn from the world to help its reconstruction.”
euronews: “Is the security situation a real problem for European investors?”
“It is a challenge for diplomats and company representatives who come here. But this is not an absolute barrier. These days one can work in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, we can move and deliver projects, as long as we take precautions. Business people must also make security arrangements to travel within Iraq and that costs, which must be taken into account, if one wants to operate here.”
euronews: “Can Iraq offer opportunities for crisis hit European companies?”
“Yes, certainly. I don’t think there is any other country in the world that offers as many business opportunities, since Iraq is a big country with a population of 33 million and all major infrastructure must be rebuilt. So there is a huge market in Iraq and moreover it is a very rich country. Oil production went up significantly in 2011 as did exports and revenues in the country. There are so many opportunities here.”
euronews: “Iraq needs sustainable investment, what can France provide?
“I would say we are fortunate that the needs of Iraq fit in well with what we can provide. They need infrastructure, oil and electricity. This is a major concern to the Iraqi people, the production and distribution of electricity. In the area of transport there are many projects in terms of urban and rail cross country transport. They a need water supply for drinking and sewage treatment, as well as the building of hospitals and telecommunications in all these area our companies are well placed. To answer the question, French business is now very active in Iraq. In 2008, we exported 170 million euro worth of goods to Iraq. In 2011 that has risen to 850 million euros, so you can see how that has progressed in three years. And I think it looks set to continue.”