Over 300 Iraqis call for peace with Israel, rejected as ‘traitors’

Conference of leading Kurds supports joining Abraham accords but Baghdad calls them traitors.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

The Iraqi government in Baghdad rejected Kurdish calls for peace with Israel. Some 300 Shiites and Sunni Kurds met in the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil for an unprecedented peace conference on Friday.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali praised the gathering, but Iraq’s federal government called the conference “illegal” and labeled the participants as “traitors.”

Friday’s conference was organized by the New York-based Center for Peace Communications. The center strives to “build public support for reconciliation,” according to its web site. According to Mideast reports, the gathering was attended by Sunnis and Shiites, tribal elders and youth leaders.

The conference ended with a call for Iraq to join the Abraham accords and normalize ties with Israel.

The Times of Israel quoted one of the speakers saying the conference believes in peace with Israel “so that we might live in a stable region that brings conflicts to an end. We believe in it because we want our region to be a peaceful one, in which Israel is an inseparable part of the panoramic whole, and in which all peoples have the right to live in security.”

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Another participant, Sheikh Wisam Al-Hardan, made the case for Israeli-Iraqi ties in a Wall Street Journal commentary published on Friday.

“We demand that Iraq join the Abraham Accords internationally,” wrote Al-Hardan, leader of the Sons of Iraq Awakening movement. “We call for full diplomatic relations with Israel and a new policy of mutual development and prosperity.”

“Some of us have faced down ISIS and al-Qaeda on the battlefield,” he added. “Through blood and tears we have long demonstrated that we oppose all extremists, whether Sunni jihadists or Iran-backed Shi’ite militias. We have also demonstrated our patriotism: We sacrificed lives for the sake of a unified Iraq, aspiring to realize a federal system of government as stipulated in our nation’s constitution.”

The Times of Israel reported that the conference will follow up with working groups addressing issues such as ties between Iraq and its Jewish diaspora, trade and investment and repealing Iraq’s anti-normalization laws, among others.

On Saturday night, Prime Minister Bennett tweeted in response, “Hundreds of Iraqi public figures, Sunnis and Shiites, gathered yesterday to call for peace with Israel. This is 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. Israel extends its hand back in peace.”

But Baghdad poured cold water on the initiative. A statement issued by the federal government claimed the conference “was not representative of the population’s [opinion] and that of residents in Iraqi cities, in whose name these individuals purported to speak.”

AFP reported that the office of Iraqi President Barham Saleh, who is also Kurdish, also censured the conference.

Israel and Iraq have been in a technical state of war since 1948.

Before Israel’s founding, more than 150,000 Jews lived in Iraq. In the years leading up to Israel’s independence and afterwards Iraqi Jews were subjected to discrimination and violence. Most notable of the violence was a 1941 pogrom known as the Farhud, in which 180 Jews were killed and around 1,000 Jews more injured.

In March, AFP reported that the Jewish population of Baghdad had dwindled down to less than five.