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The Mass Media

UMB Professor Spearheads Helsinki II Agreement; Waits on Congressional Hearings

Using a method of ‘people on people solutions’ to negotiate peace in fractured societies, Padraig O’Malley facilitated two rounds of meetings in Helsinki, Finland, in September 2007 and April 2008 between senior Iraqi parliamentarians and chief peace negotiators from Northern Ireland and South Africa, resulting in the creation of the Helsinki II Agreement, signed in Baghdad’s Green Zone on July 5, 2008.

The Helsinki II is an agreement between the Iraqi government, political parties, and alliances in Iraq that outlines 17 principles that provide guidelines by which to negotiate issues of sensitivity and contention in Iraq, and 15 mechanisms that outline implementation measures to ensure compliance with the principles.

O’Malley, the Joseph Moakley Chair of Peace and Reconciliation at the John W. McCormack Graduate School (MSG) of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston is also the Director of the Iraq Project-a joint venture of the MSG, the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University, and the Crisis Management Initiative in Helsinki, Finland-that made Helsinki I in 2007 and II in 2008 a reality.

While working on a project that included monitoring the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa in 1989, O’Malley said he developed a loose thesis that has subsequently guided his work and ultimately manifested into Helsinki II.

“[I realized that] people in divided societies are in the best position to help people in other divided societies,” O’Malley said. “[They] have certain psychological typologies and act to events in ways that people in ‘normal societies’ don’t. Even though the conflicts are different, these behaviors are the same.”

After meeting Robert Bendetson-a former student of O’Malley’s, a trustee at Tufts University, and a philanthropist who was a major funder of the Iraq Project-in Cape Town in December 2006 and being told about a conference Bendetson wanted to host on Iraq in January 2007, O’Malley said he saw a familiar opportunity he couldn’t resist.

“He [Bendetson] told me that he was going to have a conference on Iraq at Tufts […] and I though that would be the opportunity to put the Irish and South Africans together with the Iraqis, and see if there would be any interaction between them,” O’Malley said.

“We asked if there would be any potential benefit in bringing South Africans and the Northern Irish together with a cross section of people from the Sunni and Shiite parties in Iraq.”

After traveling to Iraq multiple times to discuss the possibility of meeting for peace talks in Helsinki with South African and Northern Irish counterparts, O’Malley managed to bring 16 Iraqis-Shiite and Sunni-to participate in the first round of negotiations, Helsinki I.

“After hearing the S. Africans and N. Irish describe their experience, their pain, their situations of violence, how they brought their constituents along with them, [and] how they began to be convinced of the necessity of compromise, you could certainly notice the Iraqis begin to nod,” O’Malley said. “They were identifying with what a N. Irish person or a S. African were saying.”

What came next, said O’Malley, was a document that was used in N. Ireland in the early stage of negotiations, which laid out a framework for a manner in which people should behave when conducting negotiations. After encouraging the Iraqis to produce their own specific principles, O’Malley said the Iraqis came up with 12 principles.

“They had come to Helsinki with no agenda, without the slightest idea of what to do, and here they were four days later, all their signatures-Shiite and Sunni-to a document,” he said. “They were amazed, we were amazed.”

In April 2008, after meeting for a second round of talks in Helsinki, 37 senior level Iraqi parliamentarians had signed off on all 17 principles and 15 mechanisms, reaching the outline of the Helsinki II Agreement.

O’Malley then traveled back to Iraq and spent six weeks deliberating points of contention within the agreement, finally producing a document all 37 Iraqi leaders could agree on.

“We had an event on July 5, and brought in two peace facilitators from N. Ireland-Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister and reputedly former head of the IRA; and John Alderdice, head of the International commission that oversaw the decommissioning of paramilitary arms-and South African peace negotiator Mac Maharaj. O’Malley said ownership of the agreement process was then handed to the Iraqi’s in a moving ceremony.

“They now had a framework with which to conduct negotiations and the mechanisms to ensure that those principles were complied with.”

Some fundamental principles outlined in the Helsinki II include Principle 1, ‘The commitment to the territorial integrity of Iraq and the unity of its people’; Principle 5, ‘Renouncing all kinds and forms of terrorism’; and Principle 14, ‘Commitment to fighting all forms, kinds and levels, of financial and administrative corruption’.

A crucial implementation mechanism outlined in the Helsinki II includes Mechanism 4, ‘Banning armed groups and militias of any form operating outside the framework of the law.’

The agreement, O’Malley said, is more than just a palliative for the frail set of Iraqi institutions. Rather, it is a political and humanitarian recovery plan for a failed state on “life support.”

“When America goes, for the first time ever, Iraqi’s are going to be on their own,” O’Malley said. “Since 1921, Iraq has been either been under the control of a monarchy, a benign dictatorship, a brutal dictatorship, or occupation. In almost a century, nobody will be imposing anything on the Iraqi’s; it’ll be like they’re learning to walk.”

Massachusetts Congressman William Delahunt, chairman of the subcommittee who overlooks the EU mandate in Iraq, will hold a hearing October 8, 2008-which O’Malley will attend-regarding the future viability and implementation of the Helsinki II in Iraq.