Senior Mediator Proposes Talks With IS

Senior Mediator Proposes Talks With ISSenior Mediator Proposes Talks With IS

When Padraig O’Malley says “we must talk to IS”, he’s speaking from experience.

A seasoned mediator, O’Malley brought together warring parties in Iraq at the height of the sectarian conflict in 2007 and 2008, resulting in an agreement that formed the basis for political reconciliation in Iraq and helped curb the violence, Reuters wrote.

He did this with the aid of negotiators from South Africa, and from Northern Ireland, where he helped pave the way for the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended 30 years of sectarian conflict.

In 1997, believing that people who had overcome deadlocks were best placed to advise others, he took Northern Irish negotiators to learn lessons from South Africa. When the Good Friday Agreement was signed, the main players thanked President Nelson Mandela and the South African negotiators.

“A way in time must be found to talk to Islamic State (IS). You simply will not wipe it out. It’ll just re-emerge in a different form,” he said in a telephone interview from Boston, Massachusetts, where he is a professor.

“I don’t think we in the West, or maybe anybody, fully understands the phenomenon of Islamic State, and the degree of its sophistication in attracting young people from all over the world.”

O’Malley, who is John Joseph Moakley Distinguished Professor of Peace and Reconciliation at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston, is originally from Dublin and has four decades of experience as a mediator.

> How Do You Negotiate With IS?

Contact with IS would have to begin with intermediaries close to the group – wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Arab countries “who shovel money” to the fighters.

Persuading any armed group to talk to its enemies takes a long time. It begins with developing relationships in the community, building trust with people in the lower levels of all the warring parties, and gradually working your way up. “It’s very personal,” O’Malley said.

“Part of our problem in the West is that we think these things can be resolved quickly.

“Well that’s fine, except that people in other parts of the world don’t think that way, or we don’t have a sufficient appreciation of the depth of the divisions among them,” he said.

He predicts that Iraq will not exist in its current form in 10 years’ time. The Kurds, emboldened by their successes against IS, will in the near future declare their independence from Iraq, he said.

  Return to Iraq

The 2008 Helsinki Agreement that O’Malley helped broker was signed by various political parties. It stipulates an end to corruption and to sectarianism in public office, among other things, but it was never implemented.

“Like most things in Iraq at that point, while everybody shook hands, nothing ever happened with that agreement,” he said.

O’Malley said he plans to return to Iraq when the recently appointed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is “more secure in his position”, and to suggest that al-Abadi reconvene a meeting of all the signatories to the agreement – who include the current president, prime minister, members of the cabinet and leaders of all parties in the Iraq parliament.

“What I would be emphasizing is something that is very important to Arabs – their honor ... Will you honor your signature or will you not?”

  Sick Societies

Everyone coming out of conflict suffers from post-traumatic stress, which gives rise to a host of problems, ranging from domestic abuse to addictions and drinking, to a large segment of the population being dysfunctional, O’Malley said.

“On their own they cannot resolve their problems, because they’re sick, they’re actually sick. And no one is treating them,” he said.

“You have to ask how many people in Iraq were killed as a result of the American intervention there in 2003 ... how many were displaced, how many were lost?”

“This country never thinks about them, never thinks of the effects that might have had on surviving members of those families.”

O’Malley describes being stuck in traffic in Baghdad two years ago, because bombs had gone off that day.

The Iraqis in the car didn’t complain about the bombs, what they complained about for two hours was being stuck in traffic, he said.

“They had so internalized bombings and death that ... it’s no longer a significant cause for any kind of shock,” he said.

In O’Malley’s experience, one divided society is in the best position to help another. Which is why he asked South African negotiators to help those in Northern Ireland, and both groups to help the Iraqis.

And now he brings together divided cities – including Baghdad, Belfast, Kirkuk, Mitrovica and Sarajevo – each year to listen to each other’s experiences, in the Forum for Cities in Transition.

“Our small contribution is for them to recognize their sickness and to help each other.”