Under US–Emirati Sponsorship, Iraqi Kurdistan Hosts a Conference for Normalization With 'Israel' Amid Widespread Controversy

3 years ago




A conference of Iraqi public figures held in Erbil on September 24, 2021, and called for normalization with “Israel”, what raised violent reactions in Iraq, while Tel Aviv praised its results, the Iraqi government categorically rejected it, also the Kurdistan Regional Government repudiated the meeting and announced its rejection of its results.

The repercussions of the Erbil conference, which called on Baghdad to join the Abraham Accords and normalize ties with “Israel,” are still escalating hour after hour, politically and governmentally. At a time when Iraq is approaching the date of early legislative elections, which may be crucial for the future of the political process in post-2003 Iraq.


Widespread Controversy

In an unprecedented call, which was considered the first of its kind in Iraq, for normalization with “Israel,” more than 300 prominent Iraqis (Sunni and Shiite), including tribal figures, politicians and former officers, called on their country to normalize ties with “Israel” during a conference called “Peace and Reclamation”, which was held under the sponsorship of an American organization in Kurdistan Autonomous Region.

Soon, widespread popular and official reactions erupted, and the Iraqi government expressed its categorical rejection of the meetings, which it described as illegal.

The statement issued by the media office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi added that “the proposal of the concept of normalization is constitutionally, legally and politically rejected in the Iraqi state.”

The statement also indicated that “the Erbil Conference for Normalization does not represent the public opinion in Iraq, nor the opinion of the population that the participants sought to represent in their observations.”

On September 26, 2021, the Supreme Judicial Council of Iraq announced, in a statement, that “the First Court of investigation in Al-Karkh issued an arrest warrant against 3 personalities of the conference participants, following the role they played in calling for normalization with Israel.”

It stressed that “legal measures will be taken against the rest of the participants once their full names are known.”

Among the conference participants, according to press reports: “Wisam al-Hardan, Head of Awakening movement in Anbar, Mithal al-Alusi, former parliament member, Sahar Al-Ta’i, Director of Research at the Ministry of Culture, Raysan Al-Halbousi, sheikh of the Al-Bumtar clan in Anbar, Amer al-Juburi, former General, and Saad al-Ani, former officer.”

The “Times of Israel” newspaper also revealed that Israeli and Emirati personalities attended the Erbil conference, including: “Ali al-Na’imi, former Emirati official, Chemi Peres, son of former Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Linda Menuhin Abdul Aziz, Israeli journalist of Iraqi origin.”

Iraqi officials said that their country will not normalize ties with “Israel” without a just solution to the Palestinian cause.

On September 25, 2021, the office of Iraqi President Barham Salih (a Kurdish) condemned the calls for normalization with “Israel” and stressed his country's position in support of the Palestinian cause.

According to Sahar Al-Ta’i calls at the conference, several working groups will be formed following the conference, including committees to improve ties between Iraq and the Jewish diaspora, trade, investment, education reform, and call for the abolition of anti-normalization laws in Iraq.

It is noteworthy that Iraq has technically been at war with “Israel” since 1948, they do not have any diplomatic ties, the majority of Iraqi political forces also reject normalization with “Israel”.

In early 1991, the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein fired 43 missiles towards “Israel”, most of them fell on Tel Aviv, 14 Israelis were killed, and 229 others were wounded.


Kurdistan Disowns

Meanwhile, the authorities in the Kurdistan region issued a statement on September 25, 2021.

It said: “The meeting was held without the knowledge, approval and participation of the regional government, that it does not express in any way the position of the Kurdistan Regional Government.” 

It decided to “remove the personalities who organized the conference and called for normalization with Israel.”

On its part, Washington distanced itself from the Erbil conference to normalize ties with “Israel,” although such calls are a policy supported by the US administration, which sponsored the “Abraham Accords” in September 2020 to normalize ties between “Israel”, the UAE and Bahrain, and then with Morocco and Sudan.

Colonel Wayne Marotto, the official military spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, of the global coalition to defeat ISIS, said: “We had no prior knowledge about the recent conference that was held in Erbil to discuss the normalization of ties with “Israel,” and we have no association with the participants in it.”

A group of tribal figures participating in the Erbil conference issued a statement, in which, they repudiated calls for normalization, Wisam al-Hardan held them responsible for misleading them with a deceptive title about the purpose of organizing the conference.

According to observers, “Israel” enjoys good diplomatic and economic ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government, unlike the federal government in Baghdad, which rejects normalization with Tel Aviv altogether.

It is noteworthy that in recent decades, many leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan have visited “Israel” and Kurdish politicians have publicly called for normalization with it.

In 2017, when Iraqi Kurdistan organized its controversial independence referendum, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the first of their few supporters.

In turn, Wael Al-Rikabi, a researcher in political affairs, sees in a statement with Al-Estiklal that: “How can we believe the holding of such a conference in such large numbers without providing security protection for their meeting place in Erbil by the Kurdistan region, which is surrounded by a security and intelligence circle, even without knowing the organizers and the goals of the conference.”

Al-Rikabi explains the reasons for Kurdistan’s denial of its relationship with the conference, saying: “After announcing the contents of the conference, the Kurdistan region was very afraid and quickly denied any connection with it, as a result of the widespread reactions condemning the goals of the conference.”

The Iraqi researcher adds: “However, if the Kurdistan region is not aware of this conference, this is also a dangerous point against it, and that it is a security and political penetration, and it must reconsider the personalities who reside on its lands.”

“When we were talking about an Israeli move in Iraqi Kurdistan, everyone in the Kurdistan region denied this; but today, when it appeared to the public in a way that affects the will of the Iraqis and the Iraqi constitution, the words of the regional government will not be believed unless all those who attended the meeting are handed over to the federal government to hold them accountable,” Al-Rikabi explained.

The political researcher pointed out that “Article 201 of the Iraqi Penal Code of 1969 imposes the death penalty for anyone who promotes, cooperates, and communicates with the Zionist entity.”


Normalization Support

In the first Israeli reaction to the Iraqi calls, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on his Twitter account his support for the conference and for the normalization of ties between “Israel” and Iraq.

“This is a call that comes from the people, not from the government, and “Israel” is extending its hand to you in peace,” Bennett said.

Also, the Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, welcomed the calls, he said: “The event brings hope in places we had not thought of before. We and Iraq have a common history and roots in the Jewish community.”

It is worth noting that the Erbil conference was organized by the “Center for Peace Communications” (CPC), it is an American research center that works to enhance communication between Arabs and Israelis and protect activists who support normalization with “Israel.”

In turn, the founder of the (CPC), Joseph Braude, (An American Jew of Iraqi origin, whose family fled Baghdad during the 1940s) told AFP that “about 300 participants from Sunnis and Shiites, including tribal sheikhs, intellectuals and writers from six provinces (Baghdad, Mosul, Salah al-Din, Anbar, Diyala and Babil). They participated in the event and made a brave decision.”