Sunni and Iraqi Shi'ite negotiators to meet in Finland

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mediators will meet in Finland next week with the aim of ending violence in Iraq between Iraqi Shi'ites and Sunnis, two of the country's largest population groups.

The negotiations have been arranged by Finland's Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari in 2000. Although it is unclear which CMI personnel will take part in discussions, it has been confirmed that Ahtisaari himself, currently the UN envoy for Kosovo, will play no direct role.

CMI officials are continuing to remain anonymous, citing their reasons for doing so as the sensitive nature of the arrangements in the context of current tensions in Iraq. The CMI is also refusing to refer to the planned meeting as a negotiation, preferring instead to describe it as "bringing experiences from other crisis areas in the form of a seminar".

CMI director of operations Meeri-Maria Jaarva said "What we are aiming at is to look at possible lessons learned from previous peace processes, like those in Northern Ireland and South Africa, to see if anything can be helpful,".

It is understood that a third major faction in Iraqi violence, the large Kurdish minority, will have no involvement in the discussions. The Iraqi government| is similarly not involved, although some of the other "key actors" arriving from Iraq are party representatives and parliamentarians. The Finnish government will be the only government directly involved. About a dozen people in all are expected to be present at the meetings.

The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs has made it clear that Finland will not technically be a party to the meeting, but is merely acting to arrange it. However, the Foreign Ministry has pledged support if it is requested.

The CMI did not specify the exact location of the meetings, nor could it tell reporters how long negotiations will last, saying that the length will depend on how successful the talks are. Some organizers have said that the worst case scenario is that there will only be one meeting.

The CMI also said that it was only one of several organizations critical to arranging the talks, which it describes as having been "in the works" for some time. However, when questioned about it Eija Rotinen, head of the Finnish foreign ministry's Middle East and North Africa desk, told reporters "It's completely CMI's project... We do support, though, all efforts to get peace in Iraq and the ministry does support CMI activities, even financially,"

The last time the CMI arranged international discussions in Finland was in 2005, when political leaders from Indonesia and the province of Aceh successfully negotiated a peace deal. Those talks were presided over by Ahtisaari.