A British newspaper suggests that in our desire to unite the various warring factions in Iraq, we should take our cue from their long period of sectarian negotiations in Ireland.

In the September 5 edition of the Independent, Patrick Cockburn reports on a recent secret 4-day meeting of 16 representatives of Sunni and Shia factions, which took place in Finland, that was co-chaired by former IRA commander Martin McGuinness and former South African minister, Rolf Meyer, “so when [they] told them that violence should cease and that inclusive dialogue was the way ahead, they listened. In addition, they agreed a set of principles as a basis for further talks.”

They weren’t able to come to any agreements but, according to Cockburn, the meeting “must have driven home the powerful message that even the most apparently intractable conflicts can be brought to an end.” He quotes delegate Padraig O’Malley as saying, “The South Africans didn’t understand the intensity of the divisiveness [in Iraq] and were astounded?by it. They said, ‘Wow, we thought we had problems?even in our worst days we were never like this.'”

He writes about the Good Friday agreement that was finally reached in 1998 betweem the two Irelands and ends with some wise words: “How about reconciliation between communities? This has not really happened in Northern Ireland and in Iraq it is difficult to see how reconciliation can occur since 60,000 people are fleeing their homes in fear of attack every month. Sunni and Shia can no longer live in the same street in Baghdad. Arab and Kurd can no longer live together in Mosul. There were pogroms in Belfast in 1968-9 but none of the population movements we are seeing in Iraq. President George Bush’s claim this week that victory is still possible makes it impossible to take the first steps towards ending the conflict in Iraq. It is as if the British Government had devised no new policies after internment in 1971 and hoped with one more military push it could eliminate its enemies.”

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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