McGuinness in Iraq for Talks

TALKS aimed at securing a lasting resolution to the war in Iraq could take place in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein leader and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has suggested.Last weekend the senior Republican traveled to Iraq to take part in peace talks between the warring factions in the war-torn nation.On his arrival back in Ireland on Monday McGuinness said that Northern Ireland could play host to talks with Iraqi leaders if requested.Praising the Sunni and Shia leaders who have signed up to an agreement that future negotiations should take place without a return to killing, the former IRA leader said, "I want to applaud the courage and leadership shown by these Iraqi politicians."I think something very important; something very powerful is beginning to happen."It was the latest in a series of engagements between northern Irish politicians and their counterparts in Iraq.In September 2007 McGuinness was one of a number of Republican and Loyalist politicians who met Iraqi leaders at Helsinki in Finland in an effort to share what had been learned through the northern peace process, chaired by U.S. Senator George Mitchell in 1998.The weekend agreement between the rival Iraqi groups centers around a 12 point peace plan. The Helsinki agreement commits all groups to resolving political differences through peaceful negotiations.The Iraqi groups have also agreed to consider the creation of a disarmament commission, and the formation of a group to deal with the legacy of Iraq's past, much like Northern Ireland.The agreement also calls for an end to international and regional interference in Iraq's affairs.Welcoming the weekend breakthrough, the Sinn Fein leader said, "I think the decision to work towards the implementation of the principles of Helsinki is very important for the people of Iraq."Now the politicians have signed up, a groundswell of support for their own constituents may lead to a total end of the conflict in that country."Drawing comparisons to the peace process in Northern Ireland, in particular himself and Ian Paisley sharing power in government, McGuinness added, "Pictures of myself with Ian Paisley had a profound impact in Iraq. It is important that people never despair."There was conflict in South Africa and Northern Ireland for many years, but there is a way out of conflict."Describing his visit to Baghdad as "absolutely incredible," he said, "If you want a glimpse of what World War III would be like, it's there on the streets of Baghdad."I think it's of vital importance that the process, which is now beginning to move, moves speedily."McGuinness was accompanied on his trip by Lord Alderdice, the former speaker of the North's Assembly, and political consultant Quintin Oliver."I have been to a lot of trouble spots in various parts of the world, but none of them are more militarized than this one," Alderdice said.McGuinness' visit to Iraq is the latest in a series of peace talks that he and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams have been involved in throughout the world in recent years, including Palestine, Sri Lanka, Colombia, South Africa and the Basque Country.

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