ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Sweden shares a long-standing relationship with the Kurdistan Region, and Kurds are well-integrated in Swedish society, Sweden’s Ambassador to Iraq Pontus Melander told Kurdistan 24 in an interview on Wednesday.
Melander was appointed as Ambassador to Iraq in October 2017. His previously served as Minister-Counsellor, Embassy of Sweden to the United States from 2010 to 2014. He began his diplomatic career at Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1991.
During a visit to Kurdistan 24’s headquarters in Erbil, the Swedish Ambassador underlined his country’s ties with the people of Kurdistan.
KURDS WELL-INTEGRATED IN SWEDEN
According to Melander, Kurds in Sweden have contributed positively to several aspects of Swedish society from politics, to the economy, as well as art.
“Sweden and Kurdistan, as you know, [have a] long-standing relation,” he told Kurdistan 24. “[A] nice example of that is actually [the] last Swedish parliamentary elections, where I think six of our MPs [were of] Kurdish origin.”
Indeed, during parliamentary elections in Sweden on Sept. 9, six Kurds were elected to the country’s parliament.
The ambassador noted that Sweden’s population of about 100,000 Kurds “are very well integrated into Swedish society; both when it comes to economic life, political life, and cultural life.”
One of the country’s most successful musical artists is a Kurd. Darin Zanyar from Stockholm has seven number one music albums in Sweden.
Melander also spoke about Iraq’s future following the defeat of the so-called Islamic State (IS), warning the extremist group still poses a threat to the country.
“I think we are in a very interesting time when it comes to the future of Iraq,” he said. “The fight against [IS] is not over. Yes, they don’t have any territory in Iraq any longer, but we shouldn’t be complacent about that.”
Although Iraq declared a “final victory” over IS last December, the extremist group continues to carry out random bombings, assassinations, and kidnappings in formerly-liberated areas.
Amid ongoing efforts to defeat IS, the country has also begun to form its new government, electing a new president and prime minister in recent weeks following the controversial May 12 parliamentary elections.
“Iraq has the opportunity to turn the page when it comes to the other challenges facing the society,” Melander said, noting the central government in Baghdad should begin to rebuild the country’s economy.
“We all know about the need for economic reform. I think that is one of the issues that need to be tackled in order to attract, for instance, foreign investments for capital,” he explained.
“We have to ensure that those foreign [investors] feel comfortable in the economic situation here.”
BASRA PROTESTS, MOSUL RECONSTRUCTION
The Swedish Ambassador highlighted the need for the new Iraqi government to address the needs of the people, particularly following a wave of protests in the southern province of Basra which eventually spread to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
Since July, demonstrators in Basra have called for improved essential services like electricity and clean water as well as an end to unemployment. So far, their cries have fallen on deaf ears.
“We are well aware of the other challenges facing Iraq when it comes to [the] situation in the south – when it comes to the situation in Basra – that we [oversaw] during the summer” regarding electricity and water supplies, Melander told Kurdistan 24.
He called on the government “to find stabilization efforts” and move forward with them, especially the reconstruction of war-torn cities like Mosul, a former IS stronghold.
“I visited Mosul a few months ago, and that was the most horrendous experience in my whole life, I have to admit,” Melander said.
“The devastation I saw in Mosul is beyond belief. It’s a big task for the Iraqi government, with the help of the international community, to rebuild Mosul in order for all the inhabitants of Mosul to be able to move back.”
EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN
Iraq moves forward with reconstruction and reform efforts, Baghdad also has an opportunity to empower women, Melander stated.
He said the focus should not only be on empowering women politically or economically, but rather through reconciliation efforts.
“We all know that a lot of women have been alone with taking care of their families, they have a lot of experience in how to be a part of the reconciliation process which of course is needed,” he said.
“That, I think, sums up the more immediate needs of Iraq as I see it.”