Iraq: A key lesson to be learned from the Northern Ireland peace process is that preconditions to negotiations are a block to reconciliation in Iraq, the Iraqi government's national security adviser Dr Mowaffak al-Rubaie said in Belfast yesterday.
Dr al-Rubaie, who is part of a senior delegation of Iraqis visiting Belfast that includes Sunnis, Shias and religious and tribal leaders, said he found the fact-finding mission an "eye-opener" and very useful in developing ideas to assist peace-building and reconciliation in his home country.
Dr al-Rubaie, when referring to how long it took the peace process to be created in the North, conceded that it would take years for peace and reconciliation in Iraq, but that it could and would be achieved and that Iraq must be internationally supported in its efforts to make this happen.
The delegation met all the major parties and the main churches as well as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Policing Board, Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan, the decommissioning body, the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) and other bodies during the visit between Sunday and today.
He indicated that the Iraqi government was prepared to meet with representatives of the insurgents apart from al-Qaeda or "diehard Saddamists" to try to achieve reconciliation, and that one of the lessons the delegation learned during the visit was that imposing preconditions would be a block to progress.
"We need to go to the negotiating table without any preconditions, and you negotiate everything. This is another lesson we learned from Northern Ireland," he said. "We need to rethink these preconditions again and look into this more carefully."
He also referred to how, under Saddam, the police were seen as a tyrannical arm of the state and how currently, apart from the problem of infiltration, there was the difficulty of establishing public confidence in the police.
He believed, however, that lessons could also be learned from the accountability and public confidence-building achieved by the Police Ombudsman, the Policing Board and the police Oversight Commissioner.
The models of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning and the IMC could also be useful in helping to internationalise attempts to resolve the conflict.
Justifying the death sentence on Saddam Hussein, he said the trial was independent, fair and just, and based on Iraqi law. "It was not meant to be settling scores or retaliation or revenge. It was meant to be applying and implementing justice," he said.