Monday, November 23, 2009
Kirkuk’s factions are on speaking terms
O’Malley says foes overcame hurdles, will keep talking By James F. Smith Globe Staff / November 23, 2009 Overcoming walkouts and threatened boycotts, Iraqi legislators ended three days of ground-breaking negotiations in Baghdad on the future of the disputed city of Kirkuk with an agreement yesterday to keep talking in coming months, a Boston-based mediator said. Padraig O’Malley, professor of mediation and peace at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, organized the talks among local and national Iraqi legislators representing Arab, Kurd, and Turkmen ethnic groups, who have battled for years for dominance over the oil-rich northern city. The often-tense discussions came close to breakdown at several points, O’Malley said in an e-mail account sent from Baghdad. But at 2:20 a.m. yesterday, the parties agreed to take the negotiations forward among themselves in the coming months. Given the obstacles and animosities that have divided the people of Kirkuk, O’Malley called the outcome “quite remarkable.’’ “This agreement must now be underpinned by action for change, action for reconciliation, and action for progress,’’ he said. The negotiation flowed from a process that O’Malley set in motion in Helsinki in 2007 to help Iraqis find creative ways to solve disputes. Subsequent sessions in Helsinki and in Baghdad led to agreements on principles and a negotiating mechanism involving the country’s major parties. Conflicts have divided Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmens in Kirkuk since the US invasion ousted President Saddam Hussein in 2003, and Kirkuk is one of the disputes threatening to derail the scheduled national elections in January. O’Malley brought veterans of successful negotiations in Northern Ireland and South Africa to help facilitate the Kirkuk talks. They had also been part of the Helsinki meetings. The Kirkuk talks included 60 members of the national parliament, including Speaker Ayad al Samarrai, and members of the Kirkuk Provincial Council and the Kurdish Parliament. O’Malley said the Turkmen delegation threatened to boycott the conference because the Kurdistan parliament was invited. When that was resolved, the Kurdish Parliament delegates said they would boycott unless a draft agenda was amended. Halfway through the opening session, Arabs and Turkmens from the Kirkuk council walked out, and on the second day the Arab delegation from Kirkuk walked over a perceived insult, and only returned after three hours of side talks, O’Malley recounted. Later yesterday morning, the parties met in the office of Samarrai, shook hands, and signed the final agreement promising to continue the dialogue.