Here is the conference video.
In an unprecedented plea for regional reconciliation, over 300 prominent Iraqis have termed the expulsion of their Jewish community an ‘infamous act’ and have called for their country to normalize ties with Israel. Among the Israelis participating on Zoom were Chemi Peres, son of Shimon Peres, and Iraqi-Jew Linda Menuhin. The conference was arranged in conjunction with the American Centre for Peace Communications and has created a ripple of excitement among Iraqi Jews. The more cynical, however, point out that conference took place in Kurdistan, which has made no secret of its sympathy for Israel, and only concerned those tribes allied with the US. Nevertheless, it is a significant stride forward. Times of Israel reports (with thanks: Lisette, Lily):
“We demand full diplomatic relations with the State of Israel…and a new policy of normalization based on people-to-people relations with the citizens of that country,” said Wissam al-Hardan, who commanded Sunni tribal militias that aligned with the United States to fight al-Qaeda in 2005 in response to the power vacuum that followed the 2003 American invasion.
Iraq has officially been at war with Israel since the Jewish state was founded in 1948. Iraqi soldiers have fought in three successive Arab wars against Israel. Saddam Hussein’s secret nuclear weapons program alarmed Israel, which ultimately destroyed the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981, and in 1991, the Iraqi dictator fired dozens of Scud missiles at Tel Aviv and Haifa in an attempt to draw Israel into the Gulf War.
Wissam al-Hardan, who commanded Sunni militias aligned with the US, had this op-ed published in the Wall St Journal (with thanks: Lily)):
Erbil, Iraq: “More than 300 of my fellow Iraqis from Baghdad, Mosul, Al-Anbar, Babel, Salahuddin and Diyala joined me Friday in this northern city, where we issued a public demand for Iraq to enter into relations with Israel and its people through the Abraham Accords.
We are an assembly of Sunnis and Shiites, featuring members of the (Sunni) Sons of Iraq Awakening movement, which I lead, in addition to intellectuals, tribal elders, and youth activists of the 2019-21 protest movement. Some of us have faced down ISIS and al Qaeda on the battlefield. Through blood and tears we have long demonstrated that we oppose all extremists, whether Sunni jihadists or Iran-backed Shiite 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.
Now, in striving to rebuild our country, we commit ourselves to an awakening of peace. Our guiding light is the memory of a more honorable past: a young, modern state with a glorious ancient tradition; a country that, at its finer moments, witnessed a spirit of partnership across ethnic and sectarian lines. Iraq’s subsequent deterioration was marked by the dissipation of tolerance—a casualty of generations of tyranny and fear, imposed first by rulers, then by external actors, as a tool to divide and conquer.
The most infamous act in this tragedy was the mass exodus and dispossession of the majority of our Iraqi Jewish population, a community with 2,600 years of history, in the mid-20th century. Through their forced migration, Iraq effectively cut one of its own principal veins. Yet we draw hope from the knowledge that most Iraqi Jews managed to rebuild their lives, passing their traditions to their children and grandchildren in Israel.
In striving to rebuild Iraq, we must reconnect with the whole of our diaspora, including these Jews. We reject the hypocrisy in some quarters of Iraq that speaks kindly of Iraqi Jews while denigrating their Israeli citizenship and the Jewish state, which granted them asylum.
Some of the countries surrounding Iraq are withering in war, while others are blooming in peace. We reject the rule by warlords that has devastated Libya and Yemen. We refuse to allow the tyranny and atrocities of Syria to dissuade us. We decry the cascading tragedies of Lebanon, where a militia that began as a state within a state has swallowed the country whole.
At the same time, we see a hopeful trend in the region: an expanding community of peace, economic development and brotherhood that is the framework of the Abraham Accords—initiated by the United Arab Emirates with its Israeli partners, and joined by our brethren from Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.”