300 Iraqis regret ‘infamous ‘ Jewish flight (updated)

Update to the update: The Times of Israel reports that the Iraqi government has issued warrants for the arrest of Saha al-Ta’i and Wisam al-Hardan, two prominent participants in the conference. It also intended to arrest Mithal al-Alusi, who was not at the conference, but has long advocated normalisation with Israel. It intends to arrest all 300+ participants as soon as it has identified them.
Update:  According to Ronen Zeidel, an Iraq specialist at Tel Aviv University, the initiative is the work of an American Jew (Iraqi on his mother’s side) Joseph Braude. The conference got good media coverage thanks to Braude,  including an article in the Wall Street Journal (see below). The Iraqi-Israelis who took part on Zoom were important because the organizers highlighted the Jewish story in Iraq and claimed that the renewal of relations with israel is also a renewal of contact with most of the community that moved to Israel. The Iraqi organizers pledged that the next step will be meetings with Israelis. Several Committees were set up to further trade, culture, health, education and ‘peace exports.’
The Iraqi participants are almost all individuals from the Sunni tribal world, some of them  senior officials. The main character, Sheikh Wissam Al – Hardan, from a  tribe in  western Iraq, was a prominent figure in the tribal opposition to Al- Qaeda. All those who used their real names  are very brave people, especially al-Hardan.  However, the participants have no connection to any of the three senior Sunni politicians. The speeches at the conference echo demands heard in the distant past and especially from the tribes, to give federal status to the Sunni districts – a very sensitive issue.
Al-Hardan paid tribute to  the Kurdish leader, Massoud Barzani, for making it possible to conduct the conference. Official Kurdistan has been moving away in recent years from ties with israel.The Kurdish move to approve the conference is interesting and not completely explained. Opponents to the conference threatened to launch missiles towards Kurdistan as a furious response.
Israeli officialdom ‘reacted with excessive joy’, says Zeidel. Prime Minister Bennett and Foreign Minister Lapid suddenly ′′ discovered ′′ Iraq. ‘Where were they before? Sadly, the joy of discovery’, comments Zeidel, ‘expires when the festival’s fanfare is done.’

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.

Read article in full

Wissam al-Hardan, who commanded Sunni militias aligned with the US, had this op-ed published in the Wall St Journal (with thanks: Lily)):

Wissam al-Hardan: called for Abraham Accords with Israel

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.”

Read article in full

One Comment

  • They had to retract their views as the Iraq is a dictatorship so it is not safe in Iraq to say anything which the government does not approve of. Maybe the government will be changed or the same government might decide it pays to be at peace with Israel and have normal relations. No one can forecast the future.


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