Councillors fly to secret Iraq meeting (Sunday Life)

Councillors fly to secret Iraq meeting
(Sunday Life)
7 October 2012

Four Belfast councillors were among a delegation that flew into war-torn Iraq in almost total secrecy today.

The UUP’s Bob Stoker, SDLP man Tim Attwood, John Kyle of the PUP and Alliance’s Mervyn Jones flew out but their names had been kept under wraps and a strict embargo was placed on advance news of the trip to oil-rich Kirkuk.

The councillors, along with a number of public representatives from Derry and delegates from the voluntary and community sector, are attending a Forum for Cities in Transition conference.

But as they would have been aware in advance, Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, is one of the most dangerous and disputed areas in the country.

Terrorist bombers and insurgents maintain the ability to strike almost at will and embassy officials in the region also warn: “There remains a high risk of kidnapping and caution should be exercised.”

As Allan Leonard, director of the Northern Ireland Foundation, pointed out yesterday: “Given the problems Kirkuk is experiencing it’s not something we wanted in the public domain in advance. Names before the conference began would be bad.”

The Foundation is an independent, non-profit organisation that develops programmes around a shared future in Northern Ireland.

It is co-Secretariat of the Forum conference, which works on the principle that cities which are in conflict or have emerged from conflict are in the best position to help other cities in a similar situation.

Surprisinly, even among the city delegation from Derry there is no representative from either Sinn Fein or the DUP.

“They did not take up the invitation,” said Mr Leonard.

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