Lessons in Peace-Making Northern Irish Politicians Advise Iraqis on Reconciliation

Representatives of Iraq's warring Sunni and Shiite factions attended secret talks in Finland this weekend. Senior political figures from Northern Ireland and South Africa took part in the meeting which produced a 12-point framework for ending sectarian violence in Iraq.

An Iraqi boy holds an AK-47 machine gun during a protest in Baghdad organized by the families of more than 150 victims of sectarian violence.

An Iraqi boy holds an AK-47 machine gun during a protest in Baghdad organized by the families of more than 150 victims of sectarian violence.

Leading members of the Sunni and Shiite factions in Iraq met for secret talks in Finland this weekend to try to end the spiral of sectarian violence in their country.

During the four-day meeting, the participants heard from people who certainly know something about finding peace in unlikely circumstances: leading political figures who had been involved in the conflicts in Northern Ireland and South Africa.

Leading members of Iraq's rival Sunni and Shiite political groups attended the Aug. 31-Sept. 3 national reconciliation meeting in Helsinki. The Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council confirmed to Reuters that Akram al-Hakim, Iraq's minister of state for national dialogue, Sunni Arab politician Saleh al-Mutlaq and a member of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party all attended. Humam Hammoudi, Shiite chairman of the Iraqi parliament's foreign affairs committee, Adnan al-Dulaimi, the head of the biggest Sunni political party, and representatives of Muqtada al-Sadr were also reportedly at the meeting.

During their Finnish retreat, the Iraqis heard from senior representatives of the peace processes in Northern Ireland and South Africa about how their experiences might be applied to Iraq. Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who is a leading member of the Nationalist Sinn Fein party, and former IRA prisoner Leo Green attended the talks. They were accompanied by the Democratic Unionist Party politician Jeffrey Donaldson and Billy Hutchinson, whose Progressive Unionist Party has links to loyalist paramilitary groups. South Africa sent African National Congress Leader Mac Maharaj and Roelf Meyer, a former government minister under apartheid.

The 16 Iraqis committed themselves to a 12-point framework for a lasting settlement, dubbed the "Helsinki Agreement." In a statement released at the end of the talks on Monday, the participants agreed to "consult further" on the list of 12 recommendations.

Points agreed upon included disarming feuding factions and resolving all political issues through non-violence and democracy, as well as protecting human rights. The politicians also pledged to work toward building an independent judiciary and building up the security forces. The statement also emphasized that the common vision for all Iraqi political groups is the "termination of the presence of foreign troops in Iraq through the completion of national sovereignty."

The participants also agreed to nine "political objectives," which embrace "principles of inclusivity, power-sharing, and a commitment to removing the use of violence as a means of resolving political differences." The group agreed to set up an independent commission to supervise the disarmament of non-governmental armed groups.

McGuiness said after the meeting he was "heartened" at the level of progress made, while Donaldson described the Helskini Agreement as a "road map" for Iraqi negotiations on peace. He told the Irish Times that the agreement incorporates "the principles of democracy and non-violence which were central to the Northern Ireland process."

The meeting was organized by the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, with the assistance of the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), a conflict resolution group headed by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari.

Ahtisaari has worked in numerous conflict regions. He helped negotiate the end of the conflict between the separatist Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government in 2005, and is currently involved in finding a political solution in Kosovo. The Finnish politician was also an independent inspector of IRA arms dumps which confirmed that the nationalist group had given up its violent resistance to British rule in Northern Ireland in favor of participating in the political process.



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