Bernd Erbel: Germany's New Ambassador to Iraq

The diplomat and Middle East enthusiast Bernd Erbel formally assumed his duties as German ambassador to Iraq this week. As his background shows, there are few better suited for the job.

photo: AP
Bernd Erbel - Germany's New Ambassador To Iraq

​​Most diplomats would consider Baghdad more of a hardship post. But not Bernd Erbel. For him, being the new German ambassador to Iraq is the highlight of his diplomatic career spanning almost three decades.

The 56-year-old Erbel has been fascinated by the Orient since his childhood. Already as a 16-year-old student in Karlsruhe, he traveled through Egypt. Since then, the Arab world has not relinquished its hold on him.

The former charge d'affaires presented his credentials to Iraq's interim President Ghazi al-Yawar earlier this week. Erbel is the first official German representative in Baghdad since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime last year. Berlin deliberately waited to select and send a new diplomat until the interim Iraqi government took power on June 28.

Foreign posts

Erbel studied Law and Middle Eastern history in Munich and is fluent in Arabic. He joined the diplomatic service in 1975, and was sent to his first foreign post two years later: the German Embassy in Beirut. There, he met his wife, May, a Lebanese Christian. They have two sons and a daughter, who all speak fluent Arabic.

Erbel's later posts all led to the Arab world. Initially, he represented the German Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen. Later, he functioned as a German diplomat in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh, as well as in Cairo, Egypt.

Between his foreign posts, he worked for several years for the Middle Eastern desk of Germany's Foreign Ministry in Bonn.

A great challenge

Berlin and Baghdad have had diplomatic relations since 1974. The last German ambassador left Iraq in 1991 at the time of the first Gulf War. Germany reopened a mission with a charge d'affaires in 1999, but closed it down at the time of the 2003 US-led invasion.

Although Erbel's title as ambassador has just become official, he has already been in Baghdad since June in order to meet all the necessary preparations for his new task and the re-opening of the German Embassy there.

For him, the post in Baghdad is a step up. It is his first post as a full ambassador. It is a difficult task and a great challenge at the same time, both on a diplomatic level, as well as in security terms.

But Erbel was already able to collect experience in times of civil unrest during his post in Beirut and will know when to lay low when the bullets are flying. His well-known sense of humor and easy-going personality will also certainly help him deal with his quite stressful job environment.

In Baghdad, the embassy and his residence are based in Baghdad's upscale Mansour neighborhood, barricaded behind sand bags. These security measures are vital in the current situation. However, Erbel with his experience in Arab matters and language skills should still be in the position to understand the mentality of the Iraqi people and politicians.

Fares Youwakim


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