Iraqi normalisers recant while US fails to show support (update)

Update: In the Wall St Journal, conference organiser Joseph Braude responds to a misleading New York Times report and appeals to the media not to let Iran ‘shape the story’ (with thanks: Lily):

New York Times Baghdad bureau chief Jane Arraf was one of several journalists who interviewed me by phone about the incident. I explained how I had helped Mr. Al-Hardan develop the speech from his original draft and served as go-between with the Journal’s editors. I confirmed that I translated the edited English-language version back into Arabic and submitted it to Mr. Al-Hardan for approval.

In response to Ms. Arraf’s question about his later claim that he didn’t know the content of the speech from which the article was drawn, I provided the full video of his delivering it to the crowd as well as a clip of a Kurdish TV interview, taped after the conference but before the threats began, in which he reinforced the message. Ms. Arraf’s report mentions neither video, and asserts that I told her the Journal editors had provided “input” on the piece. That’s her word, not mine, and the Journal editors made no substantive changes. The Times thereby lent a measure of credence to a recantation that obviously was made under duress.

The Iraqis who participated in the conference came to me in part because I am the son of an Iraqi Jewish woman born in Baghdad, and I took on the commitment out of a sense of kinship and personal conviction. My organization is doing everything we can to help protect them. As part of that effort, we would like to call public attention to one of the ways international media can help: Don’t allow Iran or its violent proxies to manipulate your coverage. Don’t let their intimidation and threats shape the story. And, when courageous people stand up for peace at clear risk to themselves, take note of this and ask why it is happening and why the Iranians feel so threatened by it.

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An intense backlash of death threats and intimidation has been suffered by  Wissam al-Hardan and other leading Iraqi participants in the recent groundbreaking conference calling for normalisation with Israel. But the most disgraceful aspect of this story is the Biden administration’s silence, writes Jonathan Tobin in JNS News:

From left: Dennis Ross, who took part in the conference by Zoom, organiser Joseph Braude and leading participant Wissam al-Hardan

What was so wonderful about Al-Harden’s Journal article was his acknowledgment of the tragedy of Iraqi Jews, a 2,600-year-old community that numbered more than 100,000 persons, that was driven out of the country by anti-Semitic riots and hatred.

But as The New York Times reports, the backlash against the conference, which was attended by former U.S. State Department official Dennis Ross, was intense.

According to the Times, as news of the conference in Erbil spread, the overwhelmingly Sunni Anbar province issued arrest warrants for six of the participants. Others were fired from their government jobs. Pictures of the six – now wanted by the authorities for advocating peace with Israel – are now featured on huge banners erected at checkpoints between Anbar and Baghdad with the captions accusing them of “treason.”

Just as ominous was the way Al-Harden was intimidated by the Jew-haters. Reportedly, at the conference, he directly advocated Iraq joining the Abraham Accords and spoke of a desire for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, especially in the light of the fate of Iraqi Jewry and its successful integration into Israeli society. He also warned of Iraq being reduced to a similar position as Lebanon, where Iranian auxiliaries have destroyed the country’s sovereignty and made it a puppet of Tehran.

But after being threatened for doing this and dismissed from his leadership position at the Awakening movement, Al-Harden completely recanted his position. The sheikh said he was deceived by the conference organizers and that he did not write the speech he gave at the conference or the Wall Street Journal article, claiming that since he does not read or write English, he had no idea what was being published in his own name.

The conference organizer, Joseph Braude, an Arabic-speaking American of Iraqi Jewish descent, insists that the sheikh understood everything that was in the article and his speech. Al-Harden’s son, who did not attend the conference but did drop his father off there, is also facing an arrest warrant if he returns to Anbar. Conference attendees are remaining in Erbil, which is part of the autonomous Kurdish region that broke away from Baghdad’s control decades ago. But they know if they go home, they may die.

Iran dominates much of Iraqi society in part because of the ties between Iraqi Shi’ites and Tehran, but also because Iran became immeasurably strengthened by America’s toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime, an unintended and unfortunate consequence of the 2003 invasion of the country.

As much as one might expect that Iran’s Iraqi allies would do their utmost to oppose the expansion of the Abraham Accords, the saddest and the most disgraceful aspect of this story is the reaction of the Biden administration. While Washington has largely remained silent about these events, it was telling that the one American statement about it demonstrated just how thoroughly Iran has also intimidated the United States.

The International Coalition for Operation Inherent Resolve – the U.S.-led force that has been fighting ISIS for eight years – did have something to say about the pro-normalization conference. In a tweet issued by the command’s spokesman, U.S. Army Col. Wayne Marotto, the force officially stated that it had been, “made aware of announcements … relating to the recent conference held in Erbil to discuss the normalization of ties with Israel. @Coalition had no prior knowledge of the event, nor do we have any affiliation with its participants.”

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Analysis by Tom Gross

A pro-Israel summit in Erbil (Dennis Ross  – Washington Institute)

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