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Sinn Fein lead talks to stabilise occupation government in Iraq

Andrew Johnson

25 September 2007

Earlier this month, it emerged that leading politicians from the North of Ireland had played a leading role in peace talks at a secret location in Finland, billed as helping to build a peace process in Iraq. Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, co-chaired the talks with former South African minister Roelf Meyer, while other local participants were Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP), Billy Hutchinson of the PUP/UVF, and former Alliance leader and Stormont speaker Lord Alderdice. The purpose of the talks, according to McGuinness, was to bring the lessons of the Good Friday Agreement and the South African transition to majority rule to bear on the sectarian civil war in Iraq, and to communicate those lessons to the Iraqi politicians present.

The outcome of the talks, as reported in An Phoblacht (6 September 2007) was that “Participants committed themselves to work towards a robust framework for a lasting settlement. Those present agreed to a set of recommendations to start negotiations to reach national reconciliation. These recommendations are contained in what is being called the Helsinki Agreement. The principles of inclusivity, power sharing and a commitment to removing the use of violence as a means of resolving political differences were among the most urgent concerns agreed.” However, the Iraqi constitution ratified in 2005 contains extensive and elaborate provisions for human rights, power sharing and decentralisation. This has not ended the insurgency, nor has it dampened the escalating sectarian violence in the country. If discussions between Iraqi politicians by themselves were going to bring peace, there have been ample discussions already.

The elephant in the room was the US/UK occupation of Iraq. McGuinness was clear that representatives of the occupying powers were not involved in the talks. Without the prospect of the withdrawal of the occupation forces, it would seem that any pledges of non-violence made by Iraqi parliamentarians and members of the occupation government will be hollow. The occupation was dealt with only in a roundabout way as the participants pledged to disarm militias and create a viable Iraqi army, exactly what the occupation forces are already trying to do. The priority is clearly to stabilise the Iraqi state as a precursor to any withdrawal.

The talks were held under the aegis of the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), a foundation set up by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, best known in Ireland for his supervisory role in the decommissioning process. Ahtisaari, however, has a long record, going back to his time as a professional diplomat, of being a troubleshooter for imperialism. In 1989, he was appointed UN commissioner overseeing the independence of Namibia from apartheid South Africa. During that period, he agreed to a deployment of South African troops that resulted in the deaths of several hundred SWAPO guerrillas. Since then, he has been active in Bosnia, the rebel Indonesian province of Aceh, and most recently in Kosovo. He specialises in minimal settlements that manage conflict without dealing with the underlying issues. In Aceh, he negotiated a ceasefire on the basis that the Indonesian army would return to barracks, and the Acehnese would drop demands for independence. In Kosovo, he has been more willing to confront the weak Serbian government, but the ethnic Albanians are still only being offered “supervised independence” – a neo-colonial government like that in Bosnia.

Ahtisaari himself was not involved in the Helsinki talks, but the plan put forward, or what has been made public of it, bears his hallmarks. The invasion and occupation are not put at the root of the current conflict in Iraq. The violence there is mainly to be attributed to a failure of Sunni and Shia politicians to get along. And the solution to that is to create stable institutions where the sectarian factions can divide power and resources among themselves, while the underlying reality – in this case, Iraq’s subordination to US imperialism – is left untouched. We can see how the North might provide a model here, but in Iraq the situation is so extreme it is unlikely that a Stormont-type solution could succeed.

The other point worth remarking is the high-profile involvement of Sinn Fein, who used to be an anti-imperialist movement and still strike anti-imperialist poses. But in reality, they have been nothing more than poses for a long time. Their contortions during the invasion of Iraq, when they met George Bush at the same time as joining demonstrations against him, has its roots in their domestic policy. As long ago as the late 1980s, Sinn Fein was calling for the US administration and the European Union to act as facilitators for an Irish peace process. Now they have achieved positions at Stormont, they have become facilitators themselves, and evangelists for a process like the one that institutionalised them. 

When Adams says that the Palestinians, or the Basques, or another oppressed nation need a GFA-style peace process, he should be taken literally. Dealing with the issues of oppression is to be replaced by a conflict resolution process that incorporates the politically bankrupt into agents of the imperialist masters.  This new role for Sinn Fein simply marks a further stage in their transformation into willing accomplices of imperialism and mouthpieces for imperialist ideology.


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