Sunni and Shi’a leaders began a potential peace process at secret meetings with leaders of the new Northern Ireland and South Africa one month ago, signing a draft set of principles which resemble the protocols that guided the peace settlements in those two countries.
Chairing 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. [Read more “here.]
Names of the Iraq delegations’ have not been released but reportedly included six Sunni and nine Shi’a who signed a statement of principles. About thirty Iraqis were present, including Akram al-Hakim, minister of national reconciliation for the Baghdad government, representatives of Moktada al-Sadr, Sunni leader Adnan al-Dulaimi, and Humam Hammoudi, the Shi’a chairman of the Baghdad parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
There is no doubt that American and British authorities knew about and approved the meeting, though they were excluded from attending. Instead, the meeting was facilitated and funded by the Finnish Crisis Management Initiative [CMI] and the McCormack Graduate School at the University of Massachusetts.
At this point, virtually no American media outlets have reported the meeting, despite the importance of the parties in attendance.
Irish political consultant Quentin Oliver, who directed the successful referendum on the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, summed up the significance in a South Africa Starreport: “The Iraqis saw the dynamics from us. Apartheid removed. Troubles accomodated. Baghdad next. They did it, not us. We only helped.”
The Iraqis saw former military enemies–McGuinness and Hutchison, for example, or South African apartheid leaders and ANC guerilla commanders–chairing meetings together on how sharply divided communities can coexist.
The key question for the Iraqis, who are circulating the draft at home, is whether the major parties believe their armed strategies have reached a stalemated point of no return, or whether one side [and foreign sponsors like the US and UK] still hopes for a military victory. In South Africa and Northern Ireland, secret peace discussions were initiated while the wars were proceeding, but eventually grew into the peace processes as the rival parties concluded that armed struggle [or military occupation] had reached its limits.
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.