Quietly, peace talks held between Iraqi Sunni and Shiite

T.A. Barnhart

The Nation magazine reports that Iraqi Sunni and Shiite representatives, including those of the Sadr group, held talks on finding a peace process earlier in September. The talks were held in Finland and were facilitated by representatives from Northern Ireland and South Africa — including former IRA members and apartheid leaders. The talks, virtually unreported in the United States, represent the kind of diplomacy needed to avoid the bloodshed many fear is inevitable.

former IRA leader Martin McGuinness leads peace talks between Iraqi Shiite and SunniChairing the closed meetings near Helsinki were Martin McGuinness, the former Irish Republican Army commander, lead negotiator with the British, and now Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and Roelf Meyer, former leader of the pro-apartheid National Party in South Africa's peace negotiations. The Irish delegation also included former IRA hunger striker Leo Green, minister Jeffrey Donaldson, former Stormont speaker Lord Alderdice, and former loyalist paramilitary leader Billy Hutchison. South African participants included ANC leaders Mac Maharaj and Rashid Ismail, key participants in the military and political negotiations in South Africa.

Perhaps this is what it takes: People who found a way out of their own national nightmares of hatred, violence and murder. The BBC reports:

Mr McGuinness said that while the situations in South Africa, Ireland and Iraq were different, there were also key lessons to be learned.

"The important lesson to learn is that if people are serious about bringing about peace in their country, that can only be done through an inclusive negotiating process," he said.

McGuinness is someone sectarian leaders can listen to with respect, as opposed to anyone from any of the coalition governments, who were specifically banned.

The BBC reports further:

The seminar was attended by about 30 representatives of Iraq's warring Shia and Sunni Arab factions.

The faction leaders have agreed to consult further on a series of recommendations, labelled the Helsinki agreement.

The 12 points contain clear echoes of Senator George Mitchell's principles on non-violence and democracy which paved the way towards the Good Friday Agreement.

Aside from promising to resolve political differences peacefully, the agreement commits the Iraqi parties to consider the creation of a disarmament commission, and the formation of a group to deal with the legacy of Iraq's past.

They also seek an end to international and regional interference in Iraq's affairs.

The significance of this agreement will now depend on whether the principles drawn up in Finland make any difference on the ground once the Iraqi participants return home.

Tom Hayden, who wrote the piece for The Nation, notes this peace-finding effort is not new, but was successful in what once seemed an impossible task:

South Africa was first to settle its war, in 1994, and the ANC became close advisers to the IRA as the Irish peace process was being evaluated. At one point, President Nelson Mandela even presided over discussions in South Africa between republican and unionist/loyalist leaders who would not sit in the same rooms together.

The Nation's article contains the text of the twelve principles and nine "political objectives," summarized here by CNN:

These included resolving political issues through non-violence and democracy, prohibiting the use of arms during the negotiations and forming an independent commission to supervise disarmament of militia in a verifiable way.

They also agreed to take steps to end violence, killings, forced displacement and any further damage to infrastructure, and also seek an end to the displacement of Iraqis and guarantees for their safe return in cooperation with political and tribal leaders.

Economic development, combating unemployment and adequately equipping security forces were also covered, while there was also an emphasis on the importance of foreign troop withdrawal and rebuilding the national army.

The best thing the United States can do for this process? Ignore it so they don't fuck it up. Without the likes of George Mitchell and Bill Clinton, who played critical roles in ending centuries of violence in Northern Ireland, the United States' best role is: no role at all. Let's hope it stays that way.

And one final point from the statement:

The declaration also demanded an end to "continuous bombardment and military actions by foreign forces."
  • Scott Jorgensen (unverified)

    This is about the best news to come out of Iraq in a long time. Thanks for posting this, T.A.

  • Matthew Sutton (unverified)

    Let's hope and pray this works.


    In other news,... the national pundits may be eating crow in less than 120 days now according to a new Iowa poll:

    "...among likely caucus-goers, Obama enjoys a slim lead, polling 28 percent to best Clinton (24 percent) and Edwards (22 percent). Bill Richardson is the only other Democratic candidate to score in the double digits (10 percent)."


    Dominant frontrunner? Race "sown up"? Come on pundits, pull your head out!!

    Did I mention that 24,000 people turned out for an Obama rally in NYC last week?

  • (Show?)

    It's amazing what can be accomplished when the United States gets out of the way every once in awhile.

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    These peace talks are gonna screw up a perfectly wonderful war, costing Halliburton, Blackwater, and the rest of the Bush Patriots a lot of money. George and Dick are gonna be pissed. Time to take decisive action and cut taxes to the rich and just for grins invade Iran.

  • (Show?)

    This means nothing. These people have been going at it for a long time. Expecting anything out of this is as much a waste of time as a black man expecting racism to go away after the Civial War.

    There is no leader ship in Iraq for change right now. There are still a lot of scores to settle and we are at least a civil war away from anything being resolved there. I say leave, let the killers kill and the peace makers rise to the top and sort things out.


  • Bill R. (unverified)

    I read this a few weeks back on the BBC website. It is intriguing but where are the fruits of it thus far?

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    in 1976, the Northern Ireland "Peace People" movement began with the tragic deaths of three young children and the eventual suicide of their broken mother. It took nearly 30 more years before true peace came to the province, along with self-government.

    I was living in England at the time of the original tragedy; I had just got there in fact. There were times when (I was in the Air Force) entering the air base for duty, we'd have our cars searched for explosive devices. No one feared the Russians; we feared the IRA. With the back-and-forth-and-back endless circle of violence, peace seemed impossible. The people seemed incredibly full of hate, bitterness, and stupidity -- and not just the killers on both sides, but the communities who sheltered them and provided them both fresh killers and fresh victims.

    Does this sound familiar?

    And yet this one tragedy in the midst of centuries of tragedies -- and people who do a bit of study on Ireland's sad and horrific history to get some perspective -- was one too many. The reaction to the deaths of these children -- caused by the killing of an IRA terrorist by British troops -- was not more violence but a spontaneous demand that the killig end. Catholics and Protestants alike, the non-combatants who suffered so terribly, finally stood up and said "Enough." And thus was born the Peace People movement.

    Will Iraq have such a movement? As long as the United States remains an occupying force, no. The British occupiers of Northern Ireland operated at a much lower level of oppression, bad as it was. They were not subjected to the same kind of insurgency as the U.S. faces in Iraq. When we withdraw our troops, we release the Iraqis to find their own future. That members of opposing sects (and political factions) can find common ground -- working with people they know are aligned with them -- gives us reason to hope that the inevitable outcome is not all-out civil war. Perhaps these leaders will be free to speak up and begin a homegrown process of reconciliation. Perhaps, as in Northern Ireland, it may take many more years.

    But the present course is truly hopeless. Until we pull our troops out, such opportunities for peace have no chance of success.

  • ws (unverified)

    It's about time for these people to start getting the picture. Fighting with each other after the U.S. removed the primary antagonizer seemed incredibly stupid to me, but maybe it was inevitable, particularly given Bush and Co.'s lame handling of the situation.

    It's possible they can come to some kind of agreement with each other that will usher the U.S. out of there. Maybe not right away, but surely sooner than would if they keep scrabbling with each other.

    True, they've nursed this acrimonious relationship between each other for years, but it seems likely that pressure to do differently today may come to bear from dynamics that are far different from that of years past.

  • Karl Smiley (unverified)

    I still need to be convinced that we didn't do all we could to start the "civil war". "Devide and conquer" don't you know, just like the Brits did when they were there. Events surrounding the blowing up of the Golden dome were very suspicious. The oil law we have been trying to ram through their congress would essentially split the country into three economically (while giving almost all the profits to our oil companies). The Iraqis aren't going for it. The vast majority of Iraqis don't want any part of a civil war, especially the ones who have intermarried and have mixed families and those who are now having to figure out who among their friends belong to what sect.

    Biden and the Senate just passed a non-binding resolution to split Iraq into 3 parts. Do they remember how many died when India and Pakistan split?

    (side note) Riverbend (blogger) recently made it to Syria where sunni, shia, Kurd or christian can just be Iraqis again.

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    Fighting with each other after the U.S. removed the primary antagonizer seemed incredibly stupid to me, but maybe it was inevitable, particularly given Bush and Co.'s lame handling of the situation.

    Actually Saddam, dictator that he was, was the primary prevention of the sectarian violence, not the antagonizer

  • davidg (unverified)

    This article highlights two contrasting trends:

    1. Privatization/outsourcing of the war. Recent events involving the Blackwater company create a new dimension to the Iraq war. Though no one knows exactly the size of private armies like Blackwater in Iraq (up to 50,000?), the comments I saw indicated that the US war effort in Iraq would be impossible without troop supplements by the private armies. Indeed, the private armies provide the security for the entire US diplomatic core and for most of the private contractors who are supposed to be doing infrastructure rebuilding. I am not sure what to make of the fact that our own diplomats don’t rely upon US troops to protect them. The private armies don’t yet appear to be engaging in large scale offensive maneuvers; they presently seem to be confined to protection activities. But there is a lot of historical example for the offensive use of mercenaries. In our own Revolutionary War there were the Hessions.

    I think in the US the end of the military draft and the creation of the volunteer army has effectively ended the government’s ability to launch huge foreign war efforts like occurred in Viet Nam (where over 500,000 US troops were engaged). But now the government is trying to evade that limitation by using private armies to supplement its inability to draft hordes of troops of its own.

    1. Privatization of the peace process. The article T.A. cites highlights a remarkable phenomenon: the peace process is also being privatized! The US government is probably both unwilling and unable to start real peace negotiations in Iraq. At his last news conference Bush revealed what appears to be his emerging “perpetual war” doctrine for Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. (Sadly, at the next Democratic debate Clinton, Obama, and Edwards all inferentially endorsed the concept). So the US government is likely to be a major obstacle to any private peace efforts.

    When Betty Williams was lecturing in Oregon a few years ago, she mentioned that she and other Nobel Peace Prize winners were trying to organize a peace process for handling international conflict situations. What we are seeing may be the start of their efforts in Iraq. If the negotiations are ever to be successful, eventually the US government is going to have to be invited to join the negotiations. Like some of the previous commentators on this thread, I am not yet optimistic that the US government will contribute to the peace process anytime soon.

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    it was Tito who forced the various nations to "get along" as Yugoslavia despite their mutual hatreds. once he was removed, all hell broke loose. Iraq appears to be on a similiar path; hopefully they can find accommodation before it turns into actual genocide (halted in Bosnia/etc only by massive bombings, not the best way to bring a people to peace).

    re: privitization of the peace process. i like that term, at least in terms of actuality. when we consider the 3 most successful brokers of peace from the US in the past few decades, who do we get? Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson (securing the release of Americans from Libya) and post-Senate George Mitchel. Bill Clinton did a lot, but his self-inflicted problems (and the intransigence of the anti-everything-Clinton-does neocons, led by Gingrich) kept him from doing more.

    perhaps an Obama or Edwards or Richardson presidency might present a new face to the world (especially the former) that allows us to become actively involved in real peace settlements. but at this point, we may have no choice but to let private citizens lead the way. and speaking as a progressive, that's not such a bad thing. if "we the people", whereever we are, can open the doors, perhaps our various govts may follow our lead.

  • genop (unverified)

    A unifying theme for the central govt. - peace! In this construct, the US becomes irrelevant because it is the purveyor of death and supplier of much weaponery in the sectarian war which is the status quo. What better point to establish sectarian unity than the pormise to stop killing and then establish a govt. run oil distribution system which spreads the resulting wealth to each region on a pro-rata basis. Help our friends in Iraq find this unity. Exit the military policing. Then join the UN peace keeping effort to enhance stability and allow normalcy to prevail. Praise Allah.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Yes, Tito and Saddam both were ultimate dictators. One of the many things that they accomplished was ridding their countries of sectarian violence. They crushed all who voiced contrary opinion. That wasn't a good thing, but it did keep all those prone to whip up on others in check.

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    i think what happened in Yugoslavia & Iraq makes Spain's peaceful transition to democracy one of the miracles of the 29th Century. given the factions in that country, a less effective totalitarian than the Generalissimo (who is still dead)(for you old folks out there) could well have fomented another civil war. instead they got King Juan Carlos who promptly turned the country over to the people. and when the military tried to steal it back, it was the King who stepped up and demanded the coup end & democracy be honored. absolutely amazing. (now if they could just settle that pesky Basque issue...)

  • ws (unverified)

    As an instrument for preventing sectarian violence, Saddam was next to worthless. Violence between sects still occurred under his authority, although it might be said that it was moderated some, but more importantly, used to further his personal objective which was greater dominance. Also, Saddam's antagonistic character was Bush's excuse to invade.

    I really hope the vast majority of Iraqui's are opposed to civil war, but I wonder how strong their resolve to end it is. It's got to be strong enough to set aside or at least reconcile sectarian notions of superiority in favor of a functional working relationship, and so far, that kind of strength hasn't seemed to be very well developed.

    I don't know if I understand what that phrase "privatization of peace" really means, but kind of get the idea that the U.S. government trying to escort Iraq towards peace doesn't necessarily represent the best chance for results in Iraq's best interests. I think however it turns out that Iraq comes to peace, the U.S. government expects, or is banking on getting the best deal on the oil. Stands to reason that this would make it hard for the U.S. gov to act impartially.

  • Blueshift (unverified)

    Conflict resolution theory is notoriously difficult to pin down, but one of the factors that seems to reliably move conflicting parties toward peace is if all contesting sides see that they profit more from peace than continued violence. Meeting with the political/emotional leaders of societies that have overcome their own devestating sectarian violence may be just the experience Iraqi leaders need to see that the eventual cost of violence is far, far beyond any short term gains it may bring their followers.

    <h2>Likewise, the learning process takes time, and we may not see the profits from these meetings for many months. The fact that they were able to establish a loose set of agreements is good progress, but the negotiators will have to work their way successfully through several more rounds of discussion before things start changing on the ground. Thank you for highlighting this, T.A., since the US mainstream media apparently hasn't.</h2>

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