Hundreds of Iraqi leaders and activists gathered in the country’s Kurdistan region on Friday to publicly call for full normalization with Israel.
The group, which includes Sunnis and Shiites, youth activists and tribal leaders, said the next step after the dramatic announcement would be to seek “face-to-face talks” with the Israelis.
The 312 Iraqi men and women released their statements from a hotel in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region. The conference was hosted by the New York-based Center for Peace Communications, which works to advance engagement between Arabs and Israelis and protect activists supporting normalization.
The Times of Israel covers developments at the conference as they occur.
One of the speakers explained that the group believes in peace with Israel âso that we can live in a stable region that ends conflicts. We believe in it because we want our region to be a peaceful region, in which Israel is an inseparable part of the panoramic whole, and in which all peoples have the right to live in security.
“We demand that Iraq join the Abrahamic Accords internationally,” Wisam al-Hardan, head of the Sons of Iraq Awakening movement, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Friday. âWe call for full diplomatic relations with Israel and a new policy of mutual development and prosperity. “
The Sons of Iraq were formed organically in 2005 as tribal leaders in Anbar province and former Iraqi army officers allied with US forces to fight al Qaeda.
âSome of us faced Daesh and al-Qaeda on the battlefield,â Hardan wrote. âThrough blood and tears, we have long demonstrated that we oppose all extremists, whether they are Sunni jihadists or Shiite militias backed by Iran. We also demonstrated our patriotism: we sacrificed lives for a united Iraq, aspiring to achieve a system of federal government as stipulated in our nation’s constitution.
Calling the expulsion of the Jews from Iraq the “most infamous act” in the decline of the country, Hardan said Iraq “must reconnect with all of our diaspora, including these Jews.”
âWe reject the hypocrisy in parts of Iraq that speaks nicely about Iraqi Jews while denigrating their Israeli citizenship, and the Jewish state, which granted them asylum.
Hardan also said Iraqi laws criminalizing contact with Israelis are “morally repugnant”.
He wrote that while countries like Syria, Libya, Lebanon and Yemen are mired in war, the Abraham’s Accords represent a hopeful trend of “peace, economic development and brotherhood.”
âWe have a choice: tyranny and chaos, or legality, decency, peace and progress,â he wrote. âThe answer is clear. “
Seven working groups will be formed as a result of the conference to address the links between Iraq and its Jewish diaspora, trade and investment, education reform, repeal of anti-normalization laws, communications peace in Iraqi media, artistic collaborations and support for peace activists in other Arab countries that do not recognize Israel.
The Abrahamic Accords were signed on the White House lawn in September 2020 between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Morocco and Sudan signed normalization agreements with Israel in the months that followed.
Asked by The Times of Israel about a response to the event in Iraq, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said, âThe event in Iraq is a source of hope and optimism. Israel is always looking for ways to expand the circle of peace and we are working with friends around the world to make this happen.
âNormalization benefits the whole region and helps us move away from the extremism and chaos offered by negative actors towards stability, prosperity, moderation and cooperation. The Jewish people share a deep historical bond with Iraq. So to the Iraqi people, we say today: we have much more that unites us than divides us and much more to gain from peace than from unnecessary conflict.
Iraq is officially at war with Israel and strongly supports the Arab League’s boycott of Israel. His passports are not valid for travel to Israel.
In 2019, Iraqi Ambassador to Washington Fareed Yasseen said, “There are objective reasons that may call for the establishment of relations between Iraq and Israel,” speaking in Arabic at an event titled ” How Iraq Deals with Current Regional and International Developments âat the Al-Hewar Center for Arab Culture and Dialogue in Washington.
He noted that there is a large Iraqi community in Israel and that they are still proud of their Iraqi attributes. âAt their weddings, there is an Iraqi culture of celebration. At their weddings, there are Iraqi songs, âcontinued the veteran diplomat, who has served in Washington since November 2016. Yasseen also notedâ outstanding âIsraeli technologies in the areas of water management and construction. ‘Agriculture.
“But objective reasons are not enough,” he added, stressing that there are “emotional and other reasons” that make open communication between Jerusalem and Baghdad impossible.
Although he faced backlash from other Iraqi officials, Yasseen was not recalled.
In the same year, three delegations of local Iraqi leaders reportedly visited Israel and met with Israeli officials.
The delegations, totaling 15 Iraqis, met with Israeli academics, visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and most importantly met Israeli government officials, Hadashot TV News reported.
In 2018, the Foreign Ministry launched a Facebook page solely dedicated to strengthening ties with Iraq. Diplomats in Jerusalem said the Arabic-language page would serve “as a sort of digital embassy” to the war-torn country.
In recent months, Israel had stepped up efforts to reach the country, arguing that the Iraqis were interested in establishing links with the Jewish state.
A month later, Iraq’s representative at the 2017 Miss Universe pageant – whose Instagram photo last year with her Israeli counterpart forced her family to flee the Middle Eastern country – visited Israel and found Miss Israel.
In August this year, a senior foreign ministry official said Israel maintains some form of contact with Iraq.
While Israel maintained close ties with Iraqi Kurdish rulers in the 1960s and 1970s, Iraq was one of Israel’s main adversaries until the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.
The 18,000 Iraqi troops represented the single largest force fighting the nascent Jewish state in the 1948 War of Independence, even defeating Israeli forces in Jenin. Iraq also sent large expeditionary forces to fight Israel in 1967 and 1973, losing more than 800 troops to IDF forces in the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War.
Saddam Hussein’s secret nuclear weapons program alarmed Israel, which ultimately destroyed the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981.
During the 1991 Gulf War, Hussein targeted the Jewish state with dozens of Scud missiles.