The BBC is reporting that a remarkable series of talks in Helsinki may have managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible.
Representatives of Iraq's Sunni and Shia factions have agreed to consider a series of principles on non-violence after talks involving NI politicians. The discussions were held at a secret location in Finland over the weekend.Well yes, that's stating the bleeding obvious. It's probably hoping too much to ask that these talks on their own might work - more will be needed, along with confidence-building token steps from the Iraqi participants. But the team the former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari has put together for this effort have all been there before and know that already. They include Irish loyalist Billy Hutchinson, former IRA hunger striker and Sinn Fein official Leo Green and ANC leader Mac Maharaj. I wish all the participants every success in their efforts and applaud them for even trying.
They were chaired by Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, and former South African government minister Roelf Meyer. DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson was also involved in the four days of discussions.
The seminar was attended by about 30 representatives of Iraq's warring Shia and Sunni Arab factions. The faction leaders have agreed to consult further on a series of recommendations, labelled the Helsinki agreement.
The 12 points contain clear echoes of Senator George Mitchell's principles on non-violence and democracy which paved the way towards the Good Friday Agreement.
Aside from promising to resolve political differences peacefully, the agreement commits the Iraqi parties to consider the creation of a disarmament commission, and the formation of a group to deal with the legacy of Iraq's past.
They also seek an end to international and regional interference in Iraq's affairs.
The significance of this agreement will now depend on whether the principles drawn up in Finland make any difference on the ground once the Iraqi participants return home.
You see, contrary to the nonsense the extreme Right spews at the drop of a hat, I and most (if not all) progressives don't want to see Iraq stay violent forever, nor do we want US troops killed in trying to obey the commands of the Codpiece In Chief. We just don't think that the U.S. presence is ever going to defuse the Iraqi powderkeg and we are entirely sceptical (with good reason) about the truthfulness and motives of the Bush administration and it's military appointees when they acclaim the Surge.
If initiatives like the one described above were part of the Bush administration's efforts and they would only stop trying to spin statistics to make themselves look good for GOP political gain at home, I'd be far happier with U.S. efforts in Iraq. Not happy - there's still a lot being done wrong in my opinion - but happier.
Even so, let's remember that we Lefties were saying that one day talking to terrorists would be the answer way back when the extreme Right insisted the folks involved in their beloved Anbar
And let's also remember that the principles being used to guide this extraordinary effort are those of a Democratic senator.
Because let's face it, if it works in even the smallest way it will be mere hours before the Right manages to claim it as their own idea.