by Yevgeny Primakov
pp , 17 onwards on the Kurds
Why Iraq will never normalize relationship with Israel
By Nadum Jwad
The cries to normalize relationship between Iraq and Israel have been getting louder and louder with both competing parties are becoming bolder with their respective ideas. On one hand those who push for recognizing Israel on the bases that it is a reality nobody can deny or ignore, a fully fledge state with so much power and economic clout, a member of the United Nations and so many other international bodies, etc. and it is in Iraq’s interest recognizing and established a diplomatic relationship with it, and those who say it is an illegitimate state built on kicking the rightful owners of Palestine from their land, a state built on wars and aggression with bloody history of criminality and ruthlessness.
What triggered the whole debate about normalizing relationship with Israel is a conference held in Arbil, the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north of Iraq on September 24; 2021and hosted more than 300 Iraqi delegates from across Iraq, including tribal and religious leaders (1.)
Iraqis attend the conference of peace and reclamation organized by US think-tank Center for
Why was the conference held?
There are several conflicting arguments to why the conference was held in the first place. To start, the authorities in the Kurdistan region issued a statement saying that the meeting “was held without the knowledge, approval, and participation of the regional government, and that it does not express in any way the position of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG.)” “The organizers of this conference will be held accountable and will face the appropriate punitive measures for hosting a non-government sanctioned event of the sort,” said KRG spokesman Jotiar Adil. “The foreign policy of the Kurdistan Region is directly linked to the foreign policy of Iraq, which the KRG is committed to respect,” Mr Adil said. (3)
This statement was flatly rejected by Qassem Al-Gharawi in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Monitor who strongly criticizes the conference, describing it as a “conference of humiliation and betrayal.” He also questioned the KRG’s denial of its knowledge of the conference, saying that it is “either dormant and means that the intelligence of the countries is head-butting without their knowledge, or they know and therefore support this activity, which is more likely with the indication that Barzani, in the period following the secession referendum or shortly before it, supported the relations between his government and the Zionist entity.”(4)
The conference was held under the title “Peace and Recovery Conference” and was sponsored by the Peace Communications Center based in New York.
For the participants, their justification for attending the conference is to attempt to avoid or minimize infringement by Shia militias that have for years intimidated them while operating under the guise of the Popular Mobilization Forces that helped fight the so-called Islamic State.
Wisam al-Hardan surprise
The surprise of the conference came when its spokesperson, Wisam al-Hardan, publicly called for full normalization with Israel and for joining the Abraham Accords between Israel, on one side, and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, on the other. He also called for restitution for Jews of Iraqi origin who had emigrated to Israel decade’s ago.20
The participation of Wissam Ibrahim al-Hardan in the conference was both surprising and revealing. Al-Hardan was one of the leading military commanders of Sunni tribal fighters who defeated al-Qaeda in al-Anbar governorate in Iraq. He worked with General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq. He was known for his association with Arab nationalists in the 1960s and 1970s and supported Palestinian armed struggle. He also authored two books on his Sahwa experience. Following the conference, his extended family issued a statement dissociating itself from him and expressing its adherence and support for Palestinians rights in Palestine.
Hardan’s later claim that he was duped into attending the conference is belied by the appearance of an article under his name in the Wall Street Journal that was timed for the day of the conference. That the op-ed may not have been his work is by now obvious; but that did not exonerate him from the responsibility of reading a statement at the conference in which he repeated the same ideas, only to recant them immediately after. This reality puts what can be called “a comedy of errors” in sharp relief: pro-Israel organizations and personalities in the United States used disaffected Iraqis with no political power to push for relations with Israel. What is even more damning is that the organizers really thought that they could execute this harebrained idea under the noses of Iraqi pro-Iran factions and militias that are in total control of political space in Baghdad (5).
What Hardan did was mirrored by other participants. As the Iraqi judiciary issued arrest warrants against several of them, some issued statements in which they disavowed their prior knowledge of the conference and its objectives. Whether those were sincere in their ignorance about the intent of the conference, or they were surprised by the degree of the condemnation and the possibility of legal problems is an open question. What is certain is that the conference did not at the end have the anonymity for those who pushed for normalization hoped for.
As it was stated earlier in this article, Israeli foreign Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the conference in Erbil and hoped that this would be an expansion of the Abrahamic Agreements. Those agreements (or accords) were a joint statement between State of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States of America, reached on August 13, 2020. (14) Subsequently, the term was used to refer collectively to agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (the Israel–United Arab Emirates normalization agreement) and Bahrain, respectively (the Bahrain–Israel normalization agreement.) (15) The accords are named after Abraham to emphasize the shared origin of belief between Judaism and Islam, both of which are Abrahamic religions that strictly espouse the monotheistic worship of the God of Abraham. (16)
The religious aspect of this subject has been circulating for a while now. And it was brought up to the forefront during Pope Francis historic visit to Najaf, Iraq on March 6th of this year and his subsequent visit to the Shia cleric and Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani. The meeting took place in the home of Al Sistani nearby the Imam Ali Shrine. And although the two released a joint statement against religious extremism, it was widely mentioned that the chief reason behind the pope visit was to promote a revival of a common religion, Abrahamic. And whether this was talked about or not, many Shia condemned this proposal and considered it as a sneaky way of accepting Israel under this banner. This issue in fact faded away after the visit of the pope but was revived to some extent by this Erbil conference.
On a related subject, and as the BBC reported on November 10th, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb in his speech in the framework of the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the “Egyptian Family House”, spoke about the “Abrahamic religion” and attacked it and described it as “pigs of dreams”, thus reviving a controversy that has been raging and fading for more than a year through the means of communication. Since then, the term has sparked controversy that has come to the fore for more than a year.
The general framework of the speech delivered by the Sheikh of Al-Azhar is coexistence between adherents of different religions. Al-Tayyib began talking about the matter by saying that he wanted to “definitely warn of the doubts that some raise with the aim of confusing the brotherhood between the two religions, Islamic and Christian, and the mixing of the two religions and the dissolution of the differences and divisions specific to each of them, especially in light of the trends and the call to Abrahamic.” (18)
The government of Iraq expressed its “categorical” rejection of the meetings, which it described as “illegal”. The statement issued by the media office of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi added that “the proposal of the concept of normalization is constitutionally, legally and politically rejected in the Iraqi state.” Parliamentary Speaker Mohamed Al Halbousi and one of his deputies also rejected the meeting, along with Iraqi President Barham Salih.
Iraq’s Ministry of Culture also rejected the conference and affirmed “its adherence to the position of the Iraqi government and people in rejecting the normalization of relations and its support for the Palestinian people” (6). And as stated above, the KRG declared its ignorance of the conference and it reiterated its position that it is respectful of Iraq’s foreign policies which it agreed falls under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
The Iraqi press was unanimous in its condemnation of the conference and its participants. In addition, no public figure from all political parties in Iraq welcomed such a step. On the other hand, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the invitations, saying that the event “brings hope in places we had not thought of before. We and Iraq have a common history and roots in the Jewish community.”
The conference under the crosshair
As seen in the illustration of facts above, there is no consensus is to why the conference was held in the first place, who is behind it, is the normalization with Israel was the primary objective, weather the participants were duped, if the KRG knew and approved of it, etc. It was also suggested by the Iraqi press, that “foreign forces” behind the spectacle. “It is naive to believe that this conference is not supported by political, regional, and even international forces, which are standing in a dark space, within the mistreatment campaigns they are practicing with the approach of the elections, and to show the Iraqi government the position of the weak.”. “Ali Musa al-Kinani says in the Iraqi newspaper “Al-Zaman”. He believes that the meeting at the local level “provided free publicity for the political parties that denounced, through ready-made statements, this event, instead of filing lawsuits in Iraqi courts, and if everyone distances them from this conference and refuses normalization, which supports this suspicious project?
Iraq and Israel, backgrounds
The relationship between Iraq and Israel is complex and go back to well before the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, and it was hostile at the best of times.
Iraq participated in all Arab-Israeli wars by sending troops to help Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. Iraq never recognized Israel and was always in the forefront in leading opposition to its existence, occupation of Arab land, and arming and supporting factions prone on waging wars against it. Circumstances have changed, however, since the America invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the chaos which ensued, putting the Israel and the connection between Iraqis and the Palestinian cause on the backburner.
Shia, Kurds, and Sunnis stand on normalization
When speaking of Iraq and who is pushing towards or working against normalizing relationship with Israel, we are talking about three parties, Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites. Each of those parties has their views on the subject and, inevitably, interests
Shia has a long history with the Palestinians, and by and large has supported their cause forcefully and in many ways throughout the Arab Israeli conflict. Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, this friendly relationship has undergone major changes. This is due to the following facts.
1- The general affinity of the Palestinians towards Saddam Hussein who is considered as a martyr who helped Palestinian with massive aid and dared to stand against Israeli aggression and went as far as hitting Israel with rockets during the first Gulf war in 1991
2- The belief of some Palestinians that Shiites are not true Muslims, and accordingly, should be fought as a form of Jihad again infidels. This belief was translated into so many Palestinian suicide bombers and many explosions in Shiite neighborhoods across Iraq
3- Some Palestinians used the fact that they are Sunni Muslims fighting against Shiite who have some controversial views of some their sacred figures such as the wives and companions of the prophet Muhammad
The above listed facts, Shia claim, contributed to them being on the receiving end of most of the terrorist attacks, with some of the attackers are Palestinians, resulting in so many thousands of deaths and so much destruction of their towns.
Despite these hard facts, it remains true that Shiite have a long history of supporting the Palestinian cause on every level. This was illustrated in many fatwas (religious edicts) by Shiite scholars since the beginning of the Palestinian struggle and on individual levels as in the case of Lebanon. It was argued, however, that Iran during Shah Pahlavi reign was a close ally of Israel and had a strong cooperation between the two on all levels. This argument is true due to the following.
1- The shah was one of the pillars of the American policy in the Middle East and owed the existence of his regime to strong American backing. The cooperation with Israel was an essential condition for continuous American support and this is especially true, at least at that time, in a region whereas hostility towards Israel from Arab and Muslim countries was the norm. Thus, Iran’s friendship had an obvious benefit
2- The shah had many enemies in the Arab world, the most prominent of which was the late president of Egypt, Gamal Nassir, who had many duels with the shah. Nassir also promoted Arab nationalism as the cornerstone of his foreign policies which the shah found as a threat
Iran recognized the Israel on March 6, 1950, AD, but retracted that step after only 15 months due to the strong voice of opposition that the Shah heard, especially from the clergy. A famous Shiite religious authority in Qom, Ayatollah Kashani, wrote in his statement He issued it in opposition to the fatwa on the legality of recognizing Israel: “Recognition of Israel is support for the aggression that is taking place against Muslim Arabs and non-Arab Muslims.” Less than a month later, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in an official statement dated June 7, 1951 AD, in a telegram to its consulate in Tel Aviv, And occupied Jerusalem, that any form of Iranian representation in Israel is prohibited as of today (7).
But after 9 years of closing the Iranian Consulate in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem by order of Dr. Mosaddegh, the aforementioned consulates were reopened on July 23, 1960 AD, by order of the Shah personally, and from the beginning of the sixties Iran changed to become one of Israel’s close friends in the region, and he stated Moshe Dayan in a meeting with the Shah in May 1963 in the capital, Tehran, saying: “Abdul Nasser is a nuisance to both of us, and as soon as we shake him with a strong tremor, he will fall and become like Egyptian mummies.” The aim of the visit was to exchange agricultural experiences and study the exploitation of groundwater in the Caspian Sea region, where Dayan was at the time holding the portfolio of the Ministry of Agriculture in the Tel Aviv government. (8)
The decision to normalize Iranian-Israeli relations was taken in the closed climate in the years that followed the fall of Dr. Mosaddegh, as no one inside Iran was able to confront the Shah, and the Shah had announced his approval of normalization with the Israeli entity in 1958 AD, but he also decided that The work of the Israeli representative office at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran begins with the aim of keeping the matter under wraps, which is why the pseudonym “Bern” was used in all correspondence instead of the name of the Israeli embassy in administrative correspondence (9)
The views of the Shiite scholars towards Israel since its creation were never friendly and in fact were always very hostile. “Since the emergence of Zionism, religious authorities have sided with Palestine. In 1936 AD, the authority, Muhammad al-Hussein Kashif al-Gita’, issued a fatwa calling for jihad against Zionism and its project (Muhammad Mahdi K., My Memoirs in the Heart of the Events, Dar al-Tali’a, Beirut, p. 59), and in 1946 AD, Sheikh Abd al-Karim al-Zanjani called for Standing in the face of looting and selling Palestinian lands to the Zionists, (Al-Ghari magazine dated 2/19/1946 AD). When the state of the Zionist entity was established on May 4, 1948, AD, Shiite scholars took a position rejecting the founding Zionist entity on the Palestinian lands. The reference, Mr. Mohsen al-Hakim, sent a message at the time to the United Nations strongly condemning and denouncing the establishment of a Zionist state on the land of Palestine. (The Obelisk website, Dr. Salah Abd al-Razzaq, an article entitled “The Religious Authority and its Political Role”), and Mr. Mohsen al-Hakim issued a fatwa on jihad and the disbursement of zakat and legitimate rights in the guerrilla action against the usurping entity of the occupation, (Kitabat fi al-Mizan website, Dr. Razzaq Makhour al-Gharawi, an article entitled: From The greats of the wise Alhakim and al-Khoei era” (10)
It is also important to note, that even in countries whereas Shia are not the majority, attempts to normalize relationships with Israel were meet with fierce resistance. For instance, when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to force the evacuation of the PLO, the Israelis forced the weak and Christian-led government of Lebanon to negotiate a treaty (The 17th of May) in which it was Israel, among other things will be permitted to open 4 offices in Beirut to monitor its implementation. This was vehemently denounced by the leading Shia force at the time (Amal) which commented itself to defeat it. It is also though that this resistance give rise to the more militant Shia force, Hezbollah. The treaty was then cancelled by the government of Lebanon on the 5th of March or 1984 under intense pressure.
As was stated above, the KRG declared via a statement “The authorities in the Kurdistan region issued a statement saying that the meeting “was held without the knowledge, approval, and participation of the regional government, and that it does not express in any way the position of the Kurdistan Regional Government.” However, the region takes a position towards Israel that differs from that adopted by the Iraqi government, which rejects normalization. In recent decades, many Iraqi Kurdistan leaders have visited Israel and Kurdish politicians have publicly called for normalization with it. And in 2017, when Iraq’s Kurds organized a controversial independence referendum, Israel was among their few supporters. (11) The region maintains friendly relations with the Jewish state. Thus, it stands in contrast with the positions of Iraqi officials and political factions loyal to Iran, the archenemy of Israel, which enjoys strong influence in Iraq. (12)
One of the conference highlights was a video by late Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres’s son Chemi Peres, the chair of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. He addressed the gathering and spoke about the joint projects they could launch to make life better for everyone in the Middle East.
KRG and Israeli flags, Erbil, just before the 2017 Kurdish referendum for independence
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid responded to the Iraqi leaders’ calls for peace, “since this government took over, our goal has been to expand the Abrahamic agreements, noting that the event in Iraq gives hope in places we had not thought of before.” “We and Iraq have a common history and roots in Jewish community (13.)
The relationship between Israel and Kurds of Iraq is well known and have been acknowledged and, in many instances, celebrated by both sides. It is rooted in historical, emotional, and the perception of common faith and destiny. It has also been nurtured by the fact that both sides have faced the same staunch enemy, Iraq.
The backgrounds of the relationships between the Kurds of Iraq and Israel are not the focus of this article. It is rather the future of this relationship considering this conference.
As was stated above, the KRG was prompt in stating that they didn’t know about the conference and was not taking any stand towards its objectives, and again, as was stated above, this was disputed given the long history of cooperation between the two side and the fact that it is hard to imagine that regional government was not aware of it given its iron grips the region’s affairs. However, it is also noticed the lack of enthusiasm the Kurds have shown towards the conference which, should have been a golden opportunity for them to finally state that they are finally not the only entity in Iraq willing to normalize its relationship with the Jewish state, an accusation long leveled against them. It is also possible that the Kurds learnt their lesson from the ill-fated 2017 referendum in which Israel was the only country to support their separation and that upset even the most ardent Kurd’s supporters given Israel ruthless record of treating Palestinians in the occupied territories. It is also possible that the decision of the Kurds not to show delight in the conference so that it does not antagonize their partners in Baghdad as the parties are undergoing a delicate process of forming the next government.
The writer believes that the Sunnis of Iraq would not be drawn, at least publicly, to the prospect of promoting Iraqi-Israel normalization despite the pressure from other Arab states, such as the UAE, to counter the perceived fear of Iran. This is because the Sunnis have built their entire argument in defending former president Saddam Hussein and why he was removed by the Americans on the bases that he was a sworn enemy of Israel and a staunch defender of Palestinian rights. It is also mentioned that he threated to “burn half of Israel” in a famous speech and went as far as hitting Israel with 27 rockets in the first gulf war. Therefore, any attempt in that regard would really diminish this argument. It was also known that the Iraqi army of which all its high-ranking officers were Sunnis, and specifically from the Sunni triangle, prided itself on its long history of fighting Israel in all Arab-Israeli wars since 1948. Therefore, it is not conceivable that the Sunnis would forget all that at once. That is why, Sunni leaders were prompt to denounce the conference and portray the participants as traitors. And even Al-Hardan backtracked on his participation in the face of such intense criticism. The writer also believes that the Sunnis were trapped by the UAE and like forces and used their fear of Iran’s influence in Iraq to draw them into such spectacle. But this historical Sunni animosity with Iran, and the long-standing Sunni accusation of the Shiites in Iraq of having a licence to Iran, would not be enough to form a relationship with and promote recognition of Israel
It is the opinion of this writer that Iraq would never neither now, nor in the future normalize any sort of any official relationship with Israel if the Shiia are the dominant political force there given the historical animosity they have towards the Jewish state. This also include any attempt to find a “loophole” such as the Abrahamic religion or anything similar. And if we take Iran as an example and to a lesser extent Hezbollah in Lebanon, we can see why such a possibility would not materialize in Iraq. And even in the countries whereas Israel was officially recognized (such as Bahrain), the majority Shia reacted angrily to it. It was reported that “A number of Bahraini activists demonstrated, today, Friday, to reject the appointment of an acting Israeli ambassador to the country and denounce normalization with Tel Aviv. And they warned what they called “Zionists” that they would not be safe on Bahrain’s land, as they put it, and the Shiite movement published pictures of protesters carrying banners denouncing normalization with Israel, and the pictures showed them burning Israeli flags. Some banners read, “Israel is not a state, but a usurping, criminal entity.” (17)
It is also the opinion of this writer that the Sunnis would not be drawn to this prospect despite their fear of Iran’s influence on Iraq since they will be losing the argument that they have resisted the Jewish state since its creation in 1948. As for the Kurds, their input is irrelevant knowing that they had a not-so-covert relationship with Israel for so long. But they will walk that fine line carefully, as they did in the past, by claiming that they will be abiding by what the federal government mandate in the field of external affairs
1- Politics Today, October 13, 2021
2- Arab Center Washington DC, October 12, 2021
3- MENA, September 26, 2021
4- BBC, September 27, 2021
5- Arab Center Washington DC, October 12, 2021
6- MENA, September 26, 202
7- Nizad, Masoud Kohistani, The Links of Iran and Israel, Dardora Dawlat Mosaddegh, Bidoun, P. 15
8- Al-Deeb, previously mentioned reference, p. 14, and Alizadeh, previously mentioned reference, p. 107, citing Al-Sabbagh, previous reference, p. 106.
9- Alizadeh, Hussein, Iranian-Egyptian relations, the two regional powers in the Middle East, a descriptive and analytical study, translation, Hamed, Mona Ahmed, (PhD), Cairo, 2007, special edition, p. 84
10- Al-Wifaq online, October 20, 2020
11- BBC Arabic, 9/25/2021
12- France24, 9/25/2021
13- BBC Arabic, 9/25/2021
14- CNN, 13/8/2020
15- “The Abraham Accords”. U.S. Department of States. Archivedfrom the original on 2020-10-22. Retrieved 2020-09-2
16- Tahmizian Meuse, Alison (2020-09-16). “Israel inks twin Arab treaties with UAE, Bahrain”. Asia Times. Archived from the original on 2020-10-23. Retrieved 2020-09-21.
17- Almasry Alyoum, January 16, 2021
18- BBC, November 10, 2021