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10 July 2008 Edition

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McGuinness in Iraq peace move

THE North’s deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, was in Iraq at the weekend where he addressed a conference on national reconciliation which brought together representatives of various political, ethnic and religious communities in Iraq.
Earlier this year, Martin McGuinness, the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, who played a pivotal role in talks to end apartheid, were centrally involved in discussions in Finland with representatives of Iraqi groups.
McGuinness was accompanied in Iraq on this latest phase by Sinn Féin colleagues Leo Green and Alex Maskey MLA.
Delegates at the Baghdad conference – which brought together Shi’ite and Sunni Arabs as well as members of the Kurdish community – have signed up to what are known as the Helsinki Principles.
An agreement was formally endorsed on Saturday, 5 July, by the Iraqi Government, parliamentarians and a range of other groups close to the current conflict.
Martin McGuinness writes on Page 3 about how he and others with experience of conflict resolution are trying to help the people of Iraq.


How can we help Iraq?

In Baghdad, Iraq

THERE ARE certain requests that one just has to accept. Like the one that asks if you might be able to help out in the Iraqi peace process. Of course, you answer ‘Yes’. You do as much as you are able to assist in whatever small way you can to start to resolve what is one of the great challenges of this decade.
That is why former opponents in the conflict here, from a range of political parties, two of us now Ministers together in the power-sharing Executive, agreed so readily to take part in what has become known as ‘Helsinki I’ and ‘Helsinki II, The Iraq Project.’
Twice in the last eight months we have travelled with Irish and South African counterparts to remote locations in Finland to sit and discuss with senior Iraqi politicians from all sides, parties and blocs, to share our experiences and to offer what insight we can to the process of peace-building. And now in Baghdad itself.
And that is the first point – this is no lecture circuit. We do not pontificate nor teach, or preach. We talk, we share, we explain – and let our Iraqi colleagues quiz us on their terms, from their perspective, and with their issues and problems.
Second, there are no preconditions, no exclusions, no barriers. We insist that although the events are private – away from the media and other distractions – all the key players are invited, not just the ‘Green Zone’ set, not only those who subscribe to the current government.
Third, this process is controlled by the Iraqis, not by us. They can walk away any time. They can move on in whatever direction they determine. We have no veto. Only that they continue to find our observations useful.
And the fourth principle is perhaps most important of all. No peace process is the same as another. We have no solutions to someone else’s problems. That would be arrogant and self-serving. Their circumstances are theirs.
What we and our senior South African colleagues bring is our learning, our reflections, our stories. If the Iraqis can find relevance from the ANC and National Party negotiators who dismantled apartheid in South Africa and from our experience in Ireland of accommodating historic differences, then who can deny them that opportunity?

Fifth, there are similarities in our contests amongst the very obvious differences.
Again and again we are asked in Helsinki about curbing violence, about human rights and equality provision, about armed groups, weapons, about fair and even-handed policing, about foreign interference, about the appropriate talks mechanisms, about finding independent third parties, about confidence-building measures, about trust, about the impact of economic development, about the role of civil society and women... the list goes on and on.
And we imagine that readers will recognise the same dilemmas and challenges as we have been working on over the last decade here to help resolve our conflict.
Sixth, we facilitate. There is absolutely no question of negotiations, nor does the issue ever arise. All sides are comfortable in their respective roles. Our role, in what is commonly known as ‘Track Two’ diplomacy, is to help frame the questions, the issues and the priorities, perhaps even the methodology through which to begin to create the climate for negotiations.
Then the process will step up a gear and move towards ‘Track One’ – that is formal diplomacy, under governmental or international organisation supervision. That also explains the ‘closed door’ nature of the Helsinki discussions and why no governments are involved, no outsiders, no diplomats, no journalists.
Seventh, we always argue that this process must be owned by and rooted in the culture and politics of Iraq. A Western prism cannot be imposed; it won’t work. And that is why we were so pleased when, at the tail-end of our last four-day session in April, the 36 Iraqis unanimously agreed to move the process on to their territory. That represents a huge psychological step forward. That’s why we’re here in Baghdad today.
Eighth, and finally, the integrity of the process is based on reciprocity. Nelson Mandela told us in 1997 when he invited us to visit his country: “You must negotiate with your enemies, not your friends.” On that trip, a mere ten years ago, some of the delegates from Belfast declined even to share the same airplane or the same conference room   – Mandela had to speak to us in sequence.
Now, as partners in government together – as we explained to the Iraqis – we are content to hold different political allegiances, different passports and differing political aspirations. But we share the same Cabinet table; we have agreed the same Programme for Government.
We wish the Iraqis well.

• Aswell as Sinn Féin’s Leo Green and Alex Maskey MLA Martin McGuinness has been joined in the Helsinki process by other serving and former Irish political representatives including the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson, John Alderdice, first Speaker of the North’s Assembly who also travelled to Baghdad, Former SDLP Finance Minister Seán Farren and former Progressive Unionist Party MLA Billy Hutchinson



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