Stabilization Works: Experiences from Iraq

16. April 2018   ·   Ekkehard Brose

We should regard the positive Iraqi experience as an opportunity to agree on a common understanding of stabilization and thus prepare the ground for widening its application particularly in multilateral frameworks like the UN or the EU.


„Stabilization works!” – Prime Minister Al-Abadi has said this more than once to me. More than 60% of Internally Displaced Persons – 3.6 million out of a total of 5.8 million – have actually returned home to areas from which they were driven by ISIL. This percentage alone certainly does not tell the whole story, but it provides a good first indicator as to whether or not stabilization policies are performing.

Should we then be content to push returns up to 80% and move on to the next crisis? This would mean wasting an opportunity. I suggest we should regard the positive Iraqi experience as an opportunity to agree on a common understanding of stabilization and thus prepare the ground for widening its application particularly in multilateral frameworks like the UN or the EU. With this goal in mind, I suggest three conclusions which I believe are borne out by the Iraqi experience.

  1. Stabilization in Iraq works because it follows a clear and simple concept: Once ISIS has been pushed out of a city or an area by military force and IEDs are cleared, an acceptable level of security must be established, basic infrastructure must be repaired, so that the population can return. Inclusive policies, quick and effective service provision by the state assisted by the UN and international partners will discourage political support for ISIS and lay the foundations for internal processes of “coming together” as a society. In Iraq, stabilization thus became the indispensable civilian partner and sequel of military action to win back Iraq from the reign of terror.
  2. Stabilization policies worked well wherever the Government or regional Governors or Mayors were in a position to assume effective authority and ownership in support of these policies. At times this was not the case, e.g. in Ninive or in Diyala. Then stabilization was slow and became complicated, and policies were less likely to succeed. Local ownership is essential to make stabilization work.
  3. A shared understanding of the concept of stabilization which informs the actions of a variety of partners from different sectors and agencies would strengthen our collective ability to deal with crises. By adhering to principles of good governance in the delivery of services through a legitimate authority stabilization policies can help diminish the sense in parts of the population of being disadvantaged or marginalized that so often lies at the root of instability and conflict. Instead, successful stabilization will promote a fair balance of interests and a much needed sense of reconciliation which in turn will encourage longer term processes of structural and social change.

The German contribution to stabilization efforts in Iraq is based firmly on this understanding.

You may, of course, disagree with my conclusions. In that case this might be the beginning of a fruitful discussion.

Naher Osten & Nordafrika Friedenseinsätze Zivil-militärische Zusammenarbeit Stabilisierung Frieden & Sicherheit Irak
Ekkehard Brose

Ambassador Ekkehard Brose is Special Envoy for Crisis Prevention and Stabilization at the German Federal Foreign Office.