Iraq peace talks draw to a close in Finland

Monday, September 3, 2007

Peace talks between between Sunnis and Iraqi Shi'ites in Finland aimed at ending sectarian violence in Iraq have ended.

The talks, organized by Finnish non-profit NGO WCrisis Management Initiative (CMI), took place over four days in a secret location in Finland. The discussions were aimed at demonstrating to the two sides what lessons could be learned from successful peace talks in Northern Ireland and South Africa, and were attended by more than 30 participants, of whom 16 were from Iraq and the rest from Northern Ireland and South Africa.

The CMI has now released a document called the "Helsinki Agreement", detailing agreements reached between the two groups to work collaboratively to achieve common goals democratically and without violence. One key recommendation in the Helsinki Agreement, which one Northern Irish lawmaker Jeffrey Donaldson described as a "road map" to Iraqi peace, is that the groups will disarm, and that the disarmament process will be overseen by an independent, neutral organization to ensure it is conducted "in a verifiable manner".

Martin McGuinness, former Provisional Irish Republican Army leader and now Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, was also present in the talks, as were other former enemies from both sides of the former divide in Northern Ireland. South African representatives included African National Congress activist Mac Maharaj and National Party reformer Roelf Meyer. Although no Iraqi participants have been positively identified, reports suggest they included representatives of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the largest Sunni Arab political group, Adnan al-Dulaimi and Humam Hammoudi, the Shiite chairman of the Iraqi parliament's foreign affairs committee.

Another vital agreement reached was that the groups would unite against militia groups, forming "an effective national force," and encourage armed organizations "not classified as terrorist" to instead adopt "peaceful political means", the reward for which would be positions within the state administration.