A great uproar was sparked by a conference held in the city of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, a few days ago, under the name “Peace”.
In a move that seemed shocking and met with widespread rejection, the conference, in which 312 figures from different Iraqi components participated, called for an end to the state of estrangement with Israel, and for Iraq to join the Arab normalization agreements known as “Abraham”.
The Presidency of the Republic and the House of Representatives, through two official statements, rushed to confirm their rejection of calls for normalization, and the same position was announced by clan forces, Sunni and Shiite political parties, and a wide stream of activists in the media and through social media.
While the Shiite reference in Najaf has not issued any declared position in particular until now, observers expect that next Friday’s sermon will include a position from the reference opposing normalization with Israel.
The most powerful and clear reactions came from armed Shiite groups allied to Iran, threatening, through official statements, or on the lips of its leaders, to take “deterrent measures” against what they described as “Zionist and American dens” in the northern Kurdistan region, and the conference participants who “deserve death.”.
And the Kurdistan region, the stronghold of the “Kurdistan Democratic Party” headed by Massoud Barzani, has tense relations with the armed Shiite groups allied to Iran, which accused Erbil of “having become the scene of the operations of the hostile American Zionist organizations and intelligence services,” according to the statement of “Kataeb Hezbollah”, which is close to the position of the movement. “Al-Nujaba”, which held the regional government responsible for hosting the conference, and “the presence of intelligence elements from the Zionist entity in it.”
On the other hand, the KRG announced that it had no prior knowledge of the conference, which was held without its consent; It does not, therefore, express its position in any way.
Iraq does not have official relations with Israel, which has declared normal relations with 6 of the 22 Arab countries.
The federal government in Baghdad “categorically” rejected the conference organized by the US “Peace Communications Center”, and held “illegal meetings”, which “do not represent the people and residents of Iraqi cities that these figures are desperately trying to speak on behalf of their residents.”
the Peace Communications Center, a New York-based American think tank that seeks to “build popular support for Arab-Israeli reconciliation”; It was founded by the American of Iraqi Jewish descent, “Joseph Broad”.
In the final statement, which was read by Sahar Al-Tai, Director of Research at the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, the conference demanded that her country join the Abraham agreements, saying: “We also demand normal relations with Israel and a new policy based on civil relations with its people in order to develop and prosper.”
The Iraqi Ministry of Culture is part of the “Sadiquon” bloc in the House of Representatives, which represents the political wing of a number of armed groups, including the “Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq” movement led by Qais Khazali.
The American Wall Street Journal published an editorial in the name of Wissam Al-Hardan, the leader of the Awakening of the Sons of Iraq, in which he demanded that Iraq join the Abraham agreements, establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, and repeal the law to withdraw citizenship from Iraqi Jews who hold Israeli citizenship.
Al-Hardan gave a short speech at the conference in which he emphasized the contents of his article in the American newspaper, but he returned and issued a video recording after the issuance of the arrest warrant in which he retracted his call for normalization, apologizing for his lack of prior knowledge of the goals and objectives of the conference, describing Israel as the “Zionist entity.”
Participants in the conference spoke, to Western media, that their next step would be to hold direct, face-to-face talks with the Israelis.
Israeli media revealed an agreement to form 7 groups emanating from the conference to deal with files related to relations between Iraqis and Jews of Iraqi origin in countries of the world, including those who live in Israel, and files of trade, investment, education, and health, and work to abolish anti-normalization laws.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid commented to The Times of Israel, describing the conference as “a source of hope and optimism, and that Israel is always looking to expand the circle of peace by working with friends around the world to achieve this.”
On the other hand, Hamas welcomed the position of the Iraqi government and the political and societal forces that reject normalization with Israel and support the struggle of the Palestinian people and their just causes.
The Iraqi judiciary issued arrest warrants that included a number of the most prominent participants in the conference.
The arrest warrants are based on Article 201 of the Iraqi Penal Code, which states, “Anyone who favors or promotes the principles of Zionism, including Freemasonry, or who is affiliated with any of its institutions, or assists it materially or morally, or works in any way to achieve its objectives, shall be punished with death.”
However, legal experts believe that the article does not include the participants in the Erbil conference as long as the Iraqi constitution did not stipulate that Israel is an “enemy” state, or that Israel is a “Zionist or Freemasonry” state.
Iraq did not issue statements condemning the normalization of a number of Arab countries with Israel, considering it an “internal affair.” This gives some supporters of normalization the impression that there is no official Iraqi interest in the Palestine issue.
The Iraqi government after 2003 suspended a number of laws and instructions in force before the invasion of Iraq, including the inclusion of the Iraqi passport with the phrase allowing its holder to visit all countries of the world except for Israel.
Among the other laws repealed by the Iraqi government are the deprivation of Palestinians from the right to benefit from the food card, and the law of treating Palestinians in the same rights as Iraqis until the liberation of their lands and the establishment of their state, in addition to the closure of Palestinian research and studies centers.
Therefore, observers tend to describe the uproar around the Erbil conference as not stemming from an original position towards Palestine and the issue of the Palestinian people to the extent that it expresses harmony with the Iranian position on normalization and electoral propaganda; The conference was held in timing that precedes the early elections by about two weeks.
Observers of the repercussions of holding the conference talk about the duality of the federal government and the forces, political parties, and armed groups in the position of the participants in the conference and the issuance of arrest warrants against a number of them, at a time when no such warrants were issued against deputies who visited Israel, or similar calls for normalization from other personalities.
The Iraqi constitution guarantees freedom of opinion, expression, and belief, although it is devoid of any article criminalizing relations with or normalization with Israel, and it is not classified as an “enemy”. Where the constitution limited the classification of the enemy only to “terror.”
During the last months of last year, many Arab and foreign media outlets talked about the visit of a number of members of the Iraqi parliament to Israel, media and press delegations, and political and social leaders expressed their willingness to cooperate and conclude a peace agreement with Israel in the hope of contributing to saving the country from its accumulated crises and getting rid of Iranian influence.
In press statements, last November, an adviser to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry (whose name has not been revealed) said that “the major political blocs, including Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis, do not see a problem in normalization with Israel, and they see the corruption of the ruling system as the real danger.”.
In the same month, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs revealed secret visits of three Iraqi delegations to Tel Aviv, while former Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced the removal of Iraq from the list of “enemy countries”, which includes Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran, and signed a decree authorizing Trade exchange with Iraq.