Northern Ireland delegation visits war-torn Iraqi city for conflict talk (Belfast Telegraph)

Northern Ireland delegation visits war-torn Iraqi city for conflict talk
http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/northern-ireland-delegation-visits-wartorn-iraqi-city-for-conflict-talk-16225884.html
By Brendan McDaid (Belfast Telegraph)
18 October 2012

A delegation from Belfast and Londonderry has made a ground-breaking trip to the war-torn Iraqi city of Kirkuk to speak about experiences in post-conflict Northern Ireland.

The visit was undertaken amid tight security and secrecy.

It was the first time an international conference has been staged in Kirkuk, recognised as one of the most dangerous places in the world.

As a result, negotiations are now taking place to host officers from the Iraqi police to take part in the World Police & Fire Games in Belfast in 2013.

Foyle PSNI commander Jon Burrows, Chief Inspector Chris Yates, SDLP councillor Gerard Diver and Michael Doherty from the Peace and Reconciliation Group, made up the Derry delegation.

Four councillors from Belfast City Council also took part.

A bomb went off killing two police officers and a civilian close to where the conference was taking place. The event was organised by the international Forum for Cities in Transition, but some delegates from the 12 cities involved pulled out amid security fears, while sections of the Iraqi government opposed the event.

Mr Diver said there was a real sense of deja vu in a city where checkpoints, military patrols and explosions are an everyday reality for the people.

He said: “The atmosphere was tense. We had to do a journey from where we were staying to a high-risk area, a journey of about an hour, and we had so many soldiers and police to protect us that you couldn’t help feeling a bit anxious about it.

“That kind of tension is palpable. You can feel it in the air and the security presence would remind you of here years ago, although the problems there in terms of scale and of building trust is mindblowing.

“But it was a very worthwhile experience,” he said.

“The people there were so appreciative of the fact we went there.”

Derry-Londonderry group finds hope in Iraq

Derry-Londonderry group finds hope in Iraq
Forum for Cities in Transition
14 October 2012

A delegation from the Maiden City returned from a four-day visit to Kirkuk, Iraq, where they shared learning with twelve cities in transition from conflict towards a sustainable future.

The delegation from Derry-Londonderry, which hosted last year’s Forum for Cities in Transition event, included Councillor Gerard Diver, Jon Burrows, Michael Doherty, and Chris Yates.

Gerard Diver, former Mayor of Derry-Londonderry, remarked:

“This was my fourth consecutive attendance of these Forum meetings, starting with a pilot conference in Boston in 2009. The annual gatherings are excellent opportunities to learn from each other.

“We found hope and confidence among our counterparts in Kirkuk, towards building a better city with improved public services for all its citizens.”

Michael Doherty, director of the Peace and Reconciliation Group, added:

“Crucially, these annual events are followed up by specific pledges — real projects delivered in collaboration with other member cities. In the past we’ve brought police officers from Mitrovica to Derry-Londonderry, to learn how we deliver community based policing.

“Excitingly, resulting from this year’s conference in Kirkuk, we will investigate how we can host a delegation from the Kirkuk Police Service to participate in the 2013 World Police & Fire Games.”

Chris Yates, PSNI Foyle Chief Inspector, and his colleague Jon Burrows, reflected on what they saw in Kirkuk:

“During our visit in Iraq, we met with civil society leaders, and we are greatly encouraged by their work, especially considering the greater security instability that they face daily.

“It is the mixture of the need to provide security and consensual policing, with broad engagement with local communities, that provides the sound foundations for sustainable peace. Witnessing other cities pursue this approach gave us confidence that we are getting things right back home.”

ENDS

NOTES

The Forum for Cities in Transition is an international network of mayors, councillors, municipal officials, business people, and representatives of the voluntary and community sector.

The Forum works on the principle that cities that are in conflict or have emerged from conflict are in the best position to help other cities in the same situation.

The Forum for Cities in Transition is an initiative of the John Joseph Moakley Chair at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The Secretariat is shared by the Northern Ireland Foundation and the Moakley Chair.

The 2012 annual gathering of the Forum was held in Kirkuk, Iraq, from 7-10 October, hosted by Kirkuk Provincial Council and facilitated by INSAN Iraqi Society. The participating cities were: Beirut, Belfast, Derry-Londonderry, Kaduna, Kirkuk, Mitrovica, Mitte, Mostar, Nicosia, Ramallah and Tripoli.

Belfast councillors build links in Iraq

Belfast councillors build links in Iraq
Forum for Cities in Transition
14 October 2012

A delegation of four Belfast City Councillors from the Good Relations Partnership returned from a four-day gathering in Kirkuk, Iraq, where they explored the dynamics of building peace, reconciliation and prosperity across 12 cities in three continents who are in transition from conflict.

Councillors Tim Attwood, Mervyn Jones, John Kyle and Bob Stoker explained:

“We were impressed by the efforts being made by our counterparts in Kirkuk towards building a peaceful and prosperous society in their most extraordinary post-conflict environment.

“Our colleagues in Kirkuk Provincial Council expressed gratitude for our insights into how a divided city can be reconciled through dialogue and partnership.

“We learnt much, strengthening Belfast links with Kirkuk, Kurdistan and other cities. We offered to share our expertise and work with them in promoting economic development and good community relations.”

As in previous annual gatherings of the Forum for Cities in Transition, each attending city pledges action-based projects, working within and among fellow member cities.

At the conclusion of this year’s gathering in Kirkuk, the Belfast delegates proposed:

  • To work with Hasan Taran from the Kirkuk Provincial Council to have Kirkuk Police Service participate in 2013 Police and Firemen Games in Belfast
  • To organise a Policing and Community Relations seminar for police services attending the 2013 Police and Firemen Games in Belfast
  • To encourage closer economic links between Belfast and Kirkuk (and utilising Invest NI’s office in Erbil)
  • To share good practice on promoting equality with cities in transition
  • To investigate with Queen’s University Belfast the possibility of a conflict resolution conference in 2015

The four councillors concluded:

“What particularly encourages us about the Forum’s work is that it is based on the premise that those who have dealt with such conflict are in the best position to share knowledge and best practices with others who are going through the same process.

“The mixture of Forum members — from elected local government representatives like ourselves, to those from the statutory, voluntary and community sector — reminded us of our work in the Belfast City Council’s Good Relations Partnership, which is similarly representative of the wider community in Belfast.

“It gave us confidence that our approach to conflict transformation here in Belfast is the right one.”

ENDS

NOTES

The Forum for Cities in Transition is an international network of mayors, councillors, municipal officials, business people, and representatives of the voluntary and community sector.

The Forum for Cities in Transition is an initiative of the John Joseph Moakley Chair at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The Secretariat is shared by the Northern Ireland Foundation and the Moakley Chair.

The 2012 annual gathering of the Forum was held in Kirkuk, Iraq, from 7-10 October, hosted by Kirkuk Provincial Council and facilitated by INSAN Iraqi Society. The participating cities were: Beirut, Belfast, Derry-Londonderry, Kaduna, Kirkuk, Mitrovica, Mitte, Mostar, Nicosia, Ramallah and Tripoli.

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.