Representatives from Sunni and Shia groups in Iraq agreed on a road map to peace based on the experience in Northern Ireland after four days of secret talks in Finland, reconciliation group the Crisis Management Initiative said last night.
The meeting brought together 16 delegates from the feuding groups to study lessons learned from successful peacemaking efforts in South Africa and Northern Ireland. The factions were convened by the John W McCormack graduate school of policy studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. The former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari organised the seminar but was not present.
"Participants committed themselves to work towards a robust framework for a lasting settlement," a statement issued by CMI said. It added that the participants "agreed to consult further" on a list of 12 recommendations to begin reconciliation talks including resolving political disputes through non-violence and democracy.
Politicians from Northern Ireland including the unionist Jeffrey Donaldson and the Sinn FÃƒ©in leader Martin McGuinness also attended the talks.
The recommendations included disarming feuding factions and forming an independent commission to supervise this "in a verifiable manner".
Mr Donaldson said: "Agreement has been reached on the way forward between the parties, and they are now going back to Iraq with these proposals."
Among the groups reportedly at the talks were representatives of the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; the leader of the largest Sunni Arab political group, Adnan al-Dulaimi; and Humam Hammoudi, the Shia chairman of the Iraqi parliament's foreign affairs committee.
But it was not clear last night what influence these representatives have or whether they were committed to bringing their organisations on side.
There are some tentative signs of political reconciliation within Iraq, even though the government seems unable to make any big decisions due to sectarian disputes.
Government sources said they welcomed any effort to bring the factions together, but said they had not been officially involved in the discussions.
South Africa was represented by members of Nelson Mandela's first unity government following the end of apartheid: African National Congress activist Mac Maharaj and National Party reformer Roelf Meyer.
The agreement called for all parties to be involved in the reconciliation process and to accept the results of the negotiations while working "to end international and regional interference" in Iraq.
Political objectives of the agreement included moving away from sectarian and ethnic disputes, halting the displacement of Iraqi refugees and ending the presence of foreign troops according to a "realistic timetable".
The participants also agreed to deal with militias by arming and training security forces to become "an effective national force", while fostering economic development across the country.
Members of armed groups that "are not classified as terrorist" would be encouraged to adopt "peaceful political means" and given jobs within the state administration.
Mr Ahtisaari and his group have facilitated peace talks for other conflicts. In 2005 he helped end 30 years of fighting between Aceh rebels and the Indonesian government with peace talks in Finland, which he initiated and mediated with CMI.
The 12-point plan
1. Resolve political issues through non-violence and democracy.
2. Prohibit use of arms while in talks.
3. Form independent commission to disarm groups in verifiable manner.
4. Accept results of negotiations.
5. End international interference.
6. Commit to protect human rights.
7. Assure independence and effectiveness of the law and courts, especially constitutional court.
8. Full participation of all parties in political process and governance.
9. Take all steps to end violence, killings, forced displacement and damage to infrastructure.
10. Establish independent body to explore how to deal with the past in way which will unite nation.
11. Support efforts to make political process successful and to protect Iraq's unity and sovereignty.
12. Participating groups commit to principles as complete set of rules.
© 2007 The Guardian