I know this is Caucus Night, but this is important because it totally debunks one of the key Bush administration arguments in their defense of the occupation of Iraq. It turns out that the reason there is much less fighting in Iraq is not because the surge worked, but because 16 key representatives of Iraqi political factions met with experienced peacemakers from the South African and Northern Ireland conflicts met and agreed on a process which would bring about peace in Iraq.
The Boston Globe was one of the few media outlets to report this stunning turnaround in Iraq.
The Northern Ireland delegation was led by Martin McGuiness, once chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army and now deputy first minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and Jeffery Donaldson, a senior negotiator for the Democratic Unionist Party, the party led by the Rev. Ian Paisley, who had spent 40 years excoriating the IRA as the embodiment of evil before agreeing to share power with Sinn Fein, its political wing, last March. The South African side included Roelf Meyer, who negotiated the apartheid government out of power, and Mac Maharaj, the ANC stalwart who was co-secretary of the peace process that led to the 1994 settlement.They had gathered at Staulinna to determine whether Iraqis could learn from the experiences of South Africa and Northern Ireland, which had stumbled to find ways to bring themselves to the negotiating table. The underlying premises were twofold. One, that divided societies are in a better position to help people in other divided societies, and, two, that despite the differences in their respective conflicts, the Northern Irish, South Africans, and Iraqis all shared certain behavioral and psychological attributes that would allow them to understand each other's problems in a way that facilitators from "normal" societies never could.
One of the highlights of the conference was representatives of the two different sides in Northern Ireland doing a joint presentation about how they were able to bridge the differences that had accumulated over the years and how they were able to come to a mutual power-sharing arrangement.
The most remarkable impression on the Iraqis was McGuiness, once evil incarnate to Protestants, conducting a session with Jeffery Donaldson, one of Paisley's chief negotiators, the antipathy of 30 years now set aside, each addressing the other by first name, each to an extent solicitous of the other. If enemies of such intense antagonism could chip away at their differences until they found a mutually acceptable formula for sharing power, anyone could, a lesson that resonated with the Iraqis, even if they could not yet absorb its full implications.
One more conference on Iraq, one might say. Yes, but this one had a twist: the people doing the speaking were talking from a level playing field of shared experiences, a basis of equality forged in the knowledge of the horrible damage each had done. Rather than being strangers to each other, they were linked by bonds of having lived the same experiences, parties both to atrocity and excess.
While the spell of the Bush administration over the American people has long since broken, they have not lost their ability to con the media into thinking that they deserve the credit for the recent rise in stability in Iraq. And we, as a reality-based community, cannot ignore the reality of increased stability in Iraq. The stability has gotten to the point where NPR's Morning Edition reported recently that Iraqis were finally going out and shopping for the Eid festival -- the Muslim equivalent of Christmas. And it has also gotten to the point where Sadr, one of the chief factional leaders, has begun studying to become an Ayatollah, which is strong evidence that he sees a political future in store for his movement, rather than a military future.
But the fact of the matter is that the Bush administration deserves none of the credit for the increased stability in Iraq; however, that does not stop them from trying to take credit for things that they did not do. In fact, the evidence suggests that the "surge" was a liability as far as peace efforts were concerned -- US casualties were much higher in the first several months in 2007 than they were in previous years. The violence began dropping off after the Helsinki Conference, and has not risen back to previous levels.
Here are the details of the Helsinki Agreement, which may well be a turning point in Iraq in the same way that the Good Friday Accords were in Northern Ireland:
- To resolve all political issues through non-violence and democracy.
- To prohibit the use of arms for all armed groups during the process of negotiations.
- To form an independent commission approved by all parties, its task being to supervise the process of disarmament of non-governmental armed groups in a
- All parties will commit to accept the results of the negotiations and no party can be subject to a threat of force from any groups that reject all or part of any
- To work to end international and regional interference in internal Iraqi affairs.
- To commit to protect human rights.
- To assure the independence and efficiency of the legal and justice systems, especially the constitutional court.
- To ensure the full participation of all Iraqi parties and blocs in the political process and agreed governance arrangements.
- To take all necessary steps to end all violence, killings, forced displacement and any further damage to infrastructure.
- To establish an independent consultative body to explore ways to deal with the legacy of the past in a way that will unite the nation.
- All Iraqi parties and blocs have to build Iraq and contribute efficiently to support all the efforts that would make the political process and Iraqi unity successful and to preserve its sovereignty.
- All participating groups must commit to all of the principles listed here as a complete system of rules.
1- To be rational in political speeches, for the national interest, and to move away from sectarian and ethnic dispute.
2- To bring an end to the displacement of Iraqi people and work to take care of those displaced, and secure their safe return, with guarantees of their safety by the national forces in co-operation with political parties and tribal leaders.
3- To deal with the subject of militias under the following procedures:
A- Arming, supplying, training and making sure that the security forces (army/police) are capable of undertaking their duties efficiently. Make sure that the security forces are equipped to adequate levels to achieve an effective national force.
B- Activation of economic development across the country, to contain youth unemployment and use the efforts of young people to rebuild in order to improve the quality of life for all citizens.
C- Those working outside the law and using military resources inappropriately shall be brought to justice, with no differentiation.
4- The emphasis on the common vision for all Iraqi political entities on the importance of termination of the presence of foreign troops in Iraq through the completion of national sovereignty and rebuilding a national army and security apparatus according to a national vision within a realistic timetable.
5- An emphasis on the continuation of constructive dialogue between different political groups aiming to fulfill national goals.
6- To convince political groups that are currently outside the political process to initiate and activate a constructive dialogue to reach common understandings.
7- To deal with armed groups which are not classified as terrorist, encouraging them
to use peaceful political means to address the conflict and to provide their members with jobs and opportunities within state administrations.
8- Working towards correcting the misunderstanding that accompanied the political process and encourage all Iraqi political parties to participate in building Iraq in all aspects.
9- The cessation of the violation of the human rights of Iraqi citizens and their properties by continuous bombardment and military actions by foreign forces. The Iraqi government must take responsibility to protect innocent civilians.