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Prominent Iraqi Figures Advocate for Normalization with Israel

September 27, 2021

by: Kate Norman

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The Iraqi flag

Monday, 27 September 2021 | More than 300 Iraqi public figures attended a conference in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, on Friday, advocating to normalize ties with the State of Israel.

The participants called for Iraq to join the Abraham Accords, the US-brokered 2020 peace initiative normalizing ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, followed shortly by Morocco and Sudan.

“We demand full diplomatic relations with the State of Israel…and a new policy of normalization based on people-to-people relations with citizens of that country,” said Wisam al-Hardan, Sunni leader of the Sons of Iraq Awakening movement, at the conference, as quoted by the Times of Israel.

In addition to the 300 in-person attendees, comprising political, civil and former military leaders both Sunni and Shiite, others attended the conference virtually. Former Israeli President Shimon Peres’s son Chemi Peres gave a virtual address.

The conference was held in partnership with the Center for Peace Communications, a New York-based nonprofit striving to “resolve identity-based conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa,” according to the organization’s website.

Iraq, which has technically been at war with Israel since 1948, currently has anti-normalization laws in place, criminalizing contact with Israeli citizens or promoting “Zionist values”—“crimes” previously punishable by death but downgraded in 2010 to a life sentence in prison, the Times of Israel reported.

Al-Hardan urged that Iraqis “must choose between tyranny and chaos on the one hand, and an emerging axis of legality, decency, peace and progress on the other.”

He also wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that their public meeting was the first step forward.

“Next we will seek face-to-face talks with Israelis,” the Sunni leader wrote. “No power, foreign or domestic, has the right to prevent us from moving forward. Iraq’s anti-normalization laws, which criminalize civil engagement between Arabs and Israelis, are morally repugnant.

“We extend a hand of friendship to our brothers and sisters in humanity across the region and around the world, and we ask for God’s help as we move forward toward a brighter future,” Al-Hardan concluded.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted his praise of the event, calling the “call for peace with Israel” a “call that comes from below and not from above, from the people and not from the government, and the recognition of the historical injustice done to the Jews of Iraq is especially important.”

“The State of Israel is reaching out to you for peace,” Bennett concluded.

However, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi was quick to condemn the conference and distance his government from the calls for peace.

“The Iraqi government expresses its categorical rejection of the illegal meetings held by some tribal figures residing in the city of Erbil in the Kurdistan region…” the prime minister said in a statement, adding that the meetings “do not represent the people and residents” of Iraq.

The prime minister concluded that “the concept of normalization is constitutionally, legally and politically rejected in the Iraqi state” and that Iraq supports the Palestinian cause.

In fact, official Iraqi backlash against the event has been so severe that Al-Hardan and others connected to the conference had arrest warrants issued against them by Iraqi courts.

Iraq was once home to a strong, thriving Jewish population descended from the Jews sent into Babylonian exile by King Nebuchadnezzar over 2,500 years ago.

In the 1940s, however, things turned sour, beginning with the Farhud pogrom in 1941 that saw over 180 Jewish Iraqis killed and over 900 homes destroyed. And after the Jewish state was reestablished in 1948, the persecution of Jews in Iraq grew worse, prompting Operations Ezra and Nehemiah, in which over 120,000 people were airlifted to Israel between 1950 and 1952. Today, hundreds of thousands of Israelis trace their roots back to Iraq.

Despite the official position of the Iraqi government, the open conference signals the willingness of forward-thinking Iraqis to right the wrongs of the past and seek peace with Israel.

Posted on September 27, 2021

Source: (Bridges for Peace, September 27, 2021)

Photo Credit: jorono/Pixabay.com

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