Friday, May 15, 2009

Iraq: Iraqi officials meet former IRA leader to learn conflict resolution

A group of Iraqi officials have wrapped up a United Nations-backed visit to Northern Ireland in a bid to learn from its successful conflict resolution experiences and consider how they could apply to the Middle Eastern country’s province of Kirkuk.

In selecting Northern Ireland, the UN mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the Article 23 Committee, which has been tasked by the Council of Representatives with finding a power-sharing formula prior to provincial elections in Kirkuk, recognized that every disputed situation has its own unique circumstances. At the same time, they felt that Northern Ireland’s experience over the past 12 years provides valuable lessons for resolving the issue of Kirkuk.

Members of the Committee, several members of Kirkuk’s Provincial Council and top police officials from the province participated in last week’s four-day visit.

The mission focused on three key areas of the experience in Northern Ireland: power-sharing between different communities, police reform, and the constitutional status of the province.

Andrew Gilmour, Deputy UN Special Representative, said he acknowledges there are key difference between the two situations, notably that the United Kingdom and Ireland are two separate States, while the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is part of a single Iraqi State.

“Nevertheless, there are certain principles common to both places, and close study of some aspects could be enormously beneficial to the people of Kirkuk,” Mr. Gilmour, who accompanied the delegation to Belfast, stressed.

Participants met with the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Mayor of the city of Derry and other political and security officials.

They were also briefed by Martin McGuiness, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister and a former leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a paramilitary organization which fought the British and others for several decades. He shared his view on the importance of the role of leadership in bringing peace instead of provoking further tensions.

The visiting delegation recognized Mr. McGuiness’ recent courageous statesmanship in which he publicly denounced a recent atrocity carried out by hard-line IRA renegade members.

The Kirkuk officials visiting Northern Ireland repeatedly underscored the importance of accepting that maximalist goals, which do not take into account the concerns and historical narrative of the other side, can never be achieved and can even lead to further bloodshed.

To achieve a durable peace, they emphasized, all sides must accept that no side can achieve all of its goals but all parties must feel as though at least some of their targets have been reached.

The visit is “potentially a major stepping stone to achieving improved mutual understanding and an acceptable political solution for all communities living in Kirkuk,” said Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq.

Last month, after a year-long process, he submitted reports on disputed internal boundaries to Iraq’s highest officials, with the aim of initiating dialogue over the contested demarcations.

They include a discussion paper on the future of the Kirkuk governorate, and UNAMI has analyzed four options – all of which treat the governorate as a single entity – which are based on the Iraqi Constitution, require a political agreement among the parties and some form of referendum.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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