Iraqi politicians take steps toward reconciliation at seminar in Finland
Next meeting in Baghdad in three months
A meeting held in Finland among rival Iraqi political and religious groups has proved to be useful.
Speaking to reporters in Vantaa on Monday after talks held from Friday through Sunday, the politicians underscored their desire for reconciliation and agreed that their next meeting should be in the Iraqi capital Baghdad in three months.
"We took steps, big steps - even leaps forward", said Dr. Osama al-Tikriti of the Islamic Party of Iraq's Sunni Muslims at the press conference held at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.
He said that the sides are convinced that they should all work together to stabilise Iraq. They also called for an end to violence and terrorism.
The sides also agreed that the US forces should leave Iraq before long.
"However, the US forces cannot leave before the Iraqi army and security forces have been trained to fight internal threats to their security", said Sheikh Humam Hamoudi, chairman of the Constitution Review Committee.
Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish politicians all took part in the seminar. The Kurdish representatives attended for the first time.
One indication of progress since the reconciliation talks that were kicked off in Finland in September, was that this time there were representatives of no less than 36 Iraqi parties, religious groups, and tribes, said Professor Padraig O'Malley of the University of Massachusetts, who chaired the seminar. At the first meeting there were only 16.
A representative of Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, whose forces have been fighting the US, was also invited to Finland, but he was unable to reach Baghdad Airport because of the fighting going on in Sadr City.
The most concrete result of the seminar was that the Iraqis agreed to meet again in Baghdad in three months.
By that time it is hoped that representatives of Muqtada al-Sadr and other armed groups could join the negotiations. Groups linked with the Al-Qaeda network were not invited to the meeting.
The Iraqi politicians are confident that the meeting can be held safely in Baghdad.
"The security situation is improving", says Sheikh Hamoudi. He says that the image projected by the media about the situation in Iraq does not correspond with reality very well.
At the discussions in Finland agreement was reached on principles and methods for seeking national reconciliation, and ultimately, to peace.
Organisers said that the talks proceeded in a positive spirit.
Taking part in the event was a government minister, Akram al-Hakim, who is responsible for promoting dialogue and national reconciliation.
Representatives of Northern Ireland and South Africa brought experiences from their own reconciliation talks.
The seminar was organised by the Crisis Management Initiative organisation run by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, the John W. McCormack Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Massachusetts, and the Institute for Global Leadership of Tufts University.
Ahtisaari himself did not take part in the Iraq talks but he did visit the group on Sunday.
The location of the seminar was kept a secret, but according to the newspaper Borgåbladet, it was held at a manor house near the south coast city of Porvoo.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Iraq seminar: US forces seen as impediment to peace (5.9.2008)