More than 300 Iraqis, including tribal leaders, called for normalization of ties with Israel at a conference in Autonomous Kurdistan organized by an American think tank, drawing a chorus of condemnation from Baghdad on Saturday.
The first initiative of its kind in Iraq, Israel’s historic enemy and where its sworn enemy Iran has a strong influence, the conference was held on Friday.
The organizers, the New York-based Center for Peace Communications (CPC), are advocating for the normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries, while working to build bridges between civil society organizations.
Iraqi Kurdistan maintains cordial contacts with Israel, but the federal government in Baghdad, which fought in the Arab-Israeli wars, has no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Four Arab countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan – agreed last year to normalize their relations with Israel in a process sponsored by the United States and dubbed the Abraham Accords.
We demand our integration into the Abrahamic accords, said Sahar al-Tai, one of the participants, reading a closing statement in a conference room of a hotel in the Kurdish regional capital Erbil.
Just as these agreements provide for diplomatic relations between the signatories and Israel, we also want normal relations with Israel, she said.
No force, local or foreign, has the right to prevent this call, added Tai, head of research at the Federal Ministry of Culture.
However, the federal government on Saturday rejected the call for normalization in a statement and called the rally an illegal meeting.
The conference was not representative of the populations (opinion) and that of the inhabitants of Iraqi cities, on whose behalf these individuals claimed to speak, according to the statement.
The office of Iraqi President Barham Salih, himself a Kurdish, joined in the condemnation.
Influential cleric Moqtada Sadr urged the government to arrest all participants, while Ahmed Assadi, a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces (FMP), called them traitors in the eyes of the law.
The Ministry of Culture, in a statement, said its employee Tai who attended the Erbil forum did not represent the ministry, but had participated as a member of a (civil society) organization. .
The 300 conference attendees came from all over Iraq, according to CCP founder Joseph Braude, an American citizen of Iraqi Jewish descent.
They included representatives from six governorates: Baghdad, Mosul, Salaheddine, Al-Anbar, Diyala and Babylon, extending to tribal leaders and intellectuals and writers, he told AFP by telephone.
Other speakers at the conference included Chemi Peres, the head of an Israeli foundation established by his father, the late President Shimon Peres.
Normalization with Israel is now a necessity, said Sheikh Rissan al-Halboussi, a participant from Anbar province, citing the examples of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
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