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EU boosts aid to Iraq, but says access is key

AFP

A displaced Iraqi girl from the Yazidi community holds a piece of bread after crossing the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014A displaced Iraqi girl from the Yazidi community holds a piece of bread after crossing the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014

A displaced Iraqi girl from the Yazidi community holds a piece of bread after crossing the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014A displaced Iraqi girl from the Yazidi community holds a piece of bread after crossing the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on August 11, 2014

The European Commission boosted aid to war-torn Iraq by five million euros on Tuesday but warned that finding access to desperate civilians, not funding, was the most urgent problem.

"In the case of Iraq, it is less a problem of money than a problem of access," said EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristlina Georgieva as she announced the increase in EU aid to Iraq, which brings the total from Brussels to 17 million euros ($22.8 million) for the year.

"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.

With "last resort" air drops often the only option to reach civilians in Iraq, the commissioner warned that "the spread of extremism around the world has meant more restriction to access."

"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".

The commissioner, who is on the short-list to replace EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton later this year, announced the boost in assistance as envoys from EU member states were meeting to better coordinate action on Iraq, Ukraine and Gaza.

Italy and France have called for bolder EU action on Iraq, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius making a forceful call that colleagues cut short vacations to decide measures, including military ones, to aid Kurdish Iraqis fighting off the Islamic State onslaught.

EU sources told AFP that member state envoys at the meeting were open to assembling ministers in the heart of summer, but with divisions wide over whether the bloc as a whole should expressly support the arming of Iraqi forces, the decision could yet be delayed.

When asked if bolder moves were needed in Iraq, Georgieva said humanitarian agencies could only provide "seed money" in face of such challenges, noting that the Saudi kingdom last month pledged Baghdad a whopping $500 million to be run through several UN agencies.

"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.

Georgievea also said the decision by Russia to send an humanitarian convoy to eastern Ukraine was strictly a "Russian decision".

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

Date created : 2014-08-12