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Iraqi Sunnis and Shi'ites Open Peace 'Seminar' in Finland


Members of Iraqi Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim groups are meeting in Finland in an effort to end sectarian bloodshed in their homeland.

The Helsinki-based Crisis Management Initiative is sponsoring two days of discussions by the Iraqi leaders, who arrived in the Finnish capital Friday from Jordan.

Few details about the closed-door meetings are being released including any information about who is taking part, or the venue for the talks. The Crisis Management Initiative describes the talks as a "seminar [that] will look at lessons learned from the South African and Northern Ireland peace processes," and study how these processes could benefit Iraq.

Finland's state broadcaster (YLE) says participants in the seminar include representatives of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Iraq's largest Sunni and Shi'ite political groups, as well as the Iraqi Parliament's foreign affairs committee chairman, Humam Hammoudi, a Shi'ite. The newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported last week that no Kurdish representatives are expected at the seminar.

Veterans of the South African and Northern Ireland peace processes also are taking part. CMI is organizing the meetings together with an American academic group, the John McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies of the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

Finland's Foreign Ministry is financing the seminar, but authorities in Helsinki say no government officials are at the talks.

Former Finnish president Maarti Ahtisaari, now a senior U.N. envoy, founded the Crisis Management Initiative in 2000 as an independent, nonprofit organization without links to any government or ideology. In 2005, the group helped mediate a peace accord between the Indonesian government and rebels in that country's Aceh province.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.

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