The topic of peace with Israel is threatening to further rip Iraq apart, and sources there tell Israel Today they are concerned that extremist elements could exploit the situation.
Iraq experienced something of a political earthquake over the weekend when 300 prominent citizens, including government officials and tribal leaders, participated in a conference calling for peace and normalization with Israel.
The central government in Baghdad was furious, and local peace activist Ali Abbas told Israel Today that on Sunday morning arrest warrants were issued for many, if not all of those involved.
Abbas, who runs The Virtual Embassy of Iraq in Israel, explained that it remains a serious crime to in any way facilitate peace with Israel or to “promote Zionist principles.”
“We are expecting some arrests soon,” he added. But the matter is complicated by the identity of some of those present at the conference, in particular Dr. Sahar al-Ta’i, a senior official in Iraq’s Culture Ministry who delivered the keynote address.
“Israel today, as you know, is a strong country and an inseparable part of the world and the United Nations. Iraq cannot neglect this fact and live in isolation from the world,” said al-Ta’i, insisting that Iraq follow the example of those Arab states that have signed on to the Abraham Accords.
Abbas said his sources indicated that the Speaker of Iraq’s Parliament, Mohammed al-Halboosi, had also been invited. He declined to attend, but did send a personal representative from his tribe.
Among other tribal leaders to attend was Wissam al-Hardan, who in addition to calling for peace with Israel also urged Iraq to make matters right with the Jews it expelled last century during the rise of Zionism. But Abbas said that by Sunday morning al-Hardan had issued something of an apology, asserting that he had in no way meant to harm the Palestinian cause.
“This was somewhat expected amid the pressure created by such an event,” explained Abbas. Even so, “the meeting sent a very clear message that the Sunni community, at least, is ready to normalize with Israel.”
However, Iraq’s Sunnis are hoping that this will happen in the framework of a larger movement that will give them some degree of autonomy from the central government and the Iranian influence that steers it. Iraq’s Kurds already enjoy autonomy, and as one of the side effects have maintained friendly relations with Israel for years already.
Ali Abbas of The Virtual Embassy of Iraq in Israel said that while he was encouraged by this groundbreaking push for peace, the timing was problematic.
Iraq will hold national elections in just two weeks on October 10. Given the proximity of the conference to the election, and mainstream feelings toward Israel, Abbas explained to Israel Today that nearly every major candidate had no choice but to condemn the call for peace.
“Many candidates are using what happened to claim that Israel and its agents are already active in Iraq” in a bid to scare up more votes, said Abbas.
But that’s not the worst part.
The political party of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is expected to win up to 75 of the Iraqi parliament’s 329 seats, meaning he could be the one to form the next government in Baghdad. And he has already instructed his followers and militias to “cleanse” Iraq of those seeking normalization with Israel.
If Sadr’s position becomes the official policy of Iraq, those who participated in the conference might have exposed themselves at the worst possible time.
Al-Ta’i, for one, said she is not afraid: “We can live under repression, or we can die with courage.”
Abbas said he also expects drone attacks or some other kind of military response by Iranian-backed militias on the Kurdish city of Erbil, where the conference was held.
“They’ll try to send a message to the Kurdistan Regional Government to refrain from hosting such gatherings in the future,” said our source.