Wed, Sep 05, 2007 - Page 6 News List

`Secret' Iraq peace talks end in Finland

PRECEDENTS Iraqis, along with convicts-turned-peacemakers from previous conflicts around the world, sat down to find a way to bring about reconciliation in their country


Representatives from Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq agreed on a road map to peace during secret talks that ended on Monday in Finland, organizers said.

The four-day meeting brought together 16 delegates from the feuding groups to study lessons learned from successful peacemaking efforts in South Africa and Northern Ireland.

"Participants committed themselves to work towards a robust framework for a lasting settlement," said a statement issued late on Monday by the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), a conflict-prevention group that organized the meeting.

In an agreement released by CMI, the participants "agreed to consult further" on a list of recommendations to begin reconciliation talks including resolving political disputes through non-violence and democracy.

The recommendations also included the disarmament of feuding factions and forming an independent commission to supervise the disarming of armed groups "in a verifiable manner."

Jeffrey Donaldson, a Protestant lawyer from Northern Ireland who took part in the talks, called the agreement a "road map" to Iraqi peace that included key principles of the British territory's own peace process.

"Agreement has been reached on the way forward between the parties and they are now going back to Iraq with these proposals," Donaldson said.

The venue and other details were kept secret to allow the participants to meet in private, although the final document was named the "Helsinki Agreement," suggesting the talks may have been held in the capital.

Among those reportedly at the talks were representatives of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada 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.

CMI, overseen by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, convened the seminar together with the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies of the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

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