Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Kurdish PM Nechirvan Barzani with Dutch troops at the Erbil airport. Photo by author
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - “Together we fight ISIS”, was the motto of a short visit by the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to the Kurdish capital of Erbil on Tuesday. Rutte met his Kurdish counterpart Nechirvan Barzani for three quarters of an hour at the Erbil International Airport.
The Dutch Airforce flew Rutte mainly to Iraq to show his support to the Dutch military that is training Iraqi Special Forces in Baghdad and Peshmerga troops in the Kurdistan Region.
Following his meeting with his Kurdish hosts at the airport, Rutte told dozens of members of the Dutch force that he was there “to stress how crucial your task is. We have an enemy that we need to defeat, and this is a fight of the whole world against ISIS, not only of Iraq and Syria.”
He said he was impressed by the difference he saw between Baghdad and Erbil – even though he did not leave the airport during his two hour’s visit.
“Kurdistan is much more stable than a couple of years ago, and our battle against ISIS helps to improve the stability even further.”
His talks with Prime Minister Barzani are seen as “a strong message of support from the Netherlands,” said the Kurdish minister of foreign affairs Falah Mustafa to Rudaw.
They did not only concern the level of cooperation between the two countries, but also the campaign to recapture the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, he said. “Next to the challenge already facing us of a financial crisis, a battle against ISIS and over 1.5 million refugees, we have to prepare for 500,000 to 1 million people fleeing from Mosul. To care for them will not be easy at all. The international community needs to recognize the role Kurdistan plays.”
Mosul was also on top of the agenda during the talks Rutte had earlier in the day in Baghdad, where he not only spoke to Prime Minister Haider Abadi, but also visited the United Nations top woman in Iraq Lise Grande at her office in the UN compound in the Green Zone.
One of the main subjects was how to prepare for after ISIS.
“We cannot stop at trying to defeat ISIS, we also have to think about what to do after we have. And we have to handle that together too,” Rutte said.
The Netherlands has been active in working with the UN in liberated cities like Ramadi and Falluja to help bring back the rule of law, and to rebuild the livelihood of the civilians.
To prepare the ground for after the liberation of Mosul, Dutch NGO’s are working in Iraq on peace education for the displaced communities.
During his visit the Dutch Prime Minister received appreciation and respect for the role the Dutch military are playing in Iraq, he stated. “I heard it from many people, and that was really heartwarming.”
In Baghdad he also visited the Dutch troops that are training Iraqi special forces there.
The visit is likely connected to the fact that the Dutch government will in the coming months have to decide whether or not the mission will be extended, but the Prime Minister did not want to comment on that. “We are part of a coalition of 66 countries,” he pointed out, “and I am the leader of a team that has to decide. There is nothing to add to that.”
Mark Rutte has been Prime Minister in the Netherlands since 2010, and this was his first visit to Iraq, although Dutch ministers of Defense and of International Development as well as parliamentary delegations have been to both Baghdad and Erbil before to assess the situation and offer support.
Just before boarding the plane bound for the Netherlands, the Dutch Prime Minister together with his Kurdish counterpart Barzani was presented with a medal of the 125 Dutch troops serving in Erbil, some 50 kilometer from the nearest frontline with ISIS.
“We will fight against ISIS together,” their commander promised both heads of government, as he passed the medals over in a handshake.