The 2012 Kirkuk FCT gathering held October 6th – 11th was an opportunity to tell the story of Kirkuk’s history and conflict, to learn from the challenges and achievements of its sister cities, to share information, discuss models of best practice and examine ways of improving community relations.?There were over fifty local people in attendance each day in addition to the fifty international delegates/panelists who converged on Kirkuk for four intense days of work and under the cloud of tenuous security risks.?Bearing in mind this was an explosive year – Post US withdrawal from IRAQ and the Syrian War began March 15, 2011 and the emergence of ISIS in Iraq.
The following event goals were met:
- Brought a panel similar to the team that led off the Derry-Londonderry gathering with a comprehensive discussion of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. This panel was comprised of senior personnel from all parties and governments who played a role in that process: Séan Farren (SDLP Negotiator), Jeffrey Donaldson MP (DUP Negotiator), Christopher Maccabe (Former Senior Official, Northern Ireland Office (NIO), Peter Shirlow (Queen’s University Belfast), Daithi O’Ceallaigh (Department of Foreign Affairs, Ireland), Chaired by Mr. Quintin Oliver, Stratagem, Belfast. Kirkuk delegates expressed this was the first time the process was explained in such a way that truly understood the similarities and challenges of their own struggle and that of NI.
- Made considerable headway in having all the various communal blocks in Kirkuk work together in ways they have not hitherto worked; breakdown some of the barriers of distrust that exist among them, and open them to a greater willingness to engage in conversations regarding their future. We recognized more work had to be done to keep buy in of Sunni Arabs
- Improved the city’s self-image by showing that it is capable of hosting an event such as this, putting aside partisan politics.
- Fostered frank discussions about delicate/sensitive issues with their peers from other divided cities, including how the obstacles to negotiation were overcome (where they existed) and how communities, once at war with each other, now work to foster reconciliation at the grass roots level first and then at the political level.
- Demonstrated that Kirkuk can put partisan politics aside and work together to show their sister cities that it was up to the challenge. The conference opened opportunities to engage with Erbil and Baghdad in a non-threatening way, leaving aside article 140 and the acrimony that emerges once it is mentioned. Working successfully together on a project of this magnitude raised confidence in their ability to put their fears aside and work in a spirit of cooperation and trust at resolving the issues of Kirkuk’s future.
- Parenthetically, it also opened ways for Sunni and Alewite delegates from Tripoli to explore the impact of the conflict in Syria on their already fragile and sometimes combustible relationship. This has led to the current road map project with Tripoli.