On Friday 24 September a conference titled "Peace and Recovery" was held in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The conference, which was organised by an American centre called Peace Communications Centre, was attended by a number of Iraqis who were described as "tribal elders, writers and intellectuals."
It's call for Iraq's recognition of the Israeli settlement state coincided with the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords signed by the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, with the blessing of former US President Donald Trump. The US, headed by Democrat Joe Biden, continues the Republican Trump's policy of supporting the Israeli occupation at the expense of the genocide of the Palestinian people. On Friday, in his meeting with the foreign ministers of the Abraham Accords countries, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed the US' continued support for the occupation through them. While Blinken praises the benefits of agreements for the peoples of the region, he does not forget the soft threat that it is in the interests of the countries of the region and the world that Israel is treated like all other countries. It is not surprising, then, that a conference will be held on the same day, calling through its main speaker, Sahar Al-Ta'i, for Iraq to change its policy. She stated: "It is both necessary and inevitable for Iraq to recognise Israel and join the Abrahamic Accords."
The reports and videos published about the conference, in addition to the speeches of the speakers, indicate that the attendees, who avoided showing their faces in front of the camera, do not represent the societal and religious groups, the centres or organisations, or the Iraqi tribes, as the organisers claim. Sahar Al-Ta'i, who said that no internal or external forces have the right to stop them from launching this appeal, and who was presented as the official spokesperson for the Culture Ministry, has prompted the Ministry of Culture to immediately issue a statement of rejection in which it denied its connection to the statements made by one of its employees claiming to hold a position in the Ministry of Culture.
The ministry stated that it rejects the holding of a normalisation conference with Israel in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and that it considers this conference to be a dangerous precedent that infringes on the constitution and the opinion of the Iraqi people. It also noted that this conference affects the dignity of the Palestinian cause and the rights of its people, and this is rejected by the Iraqi government and people. The ministry affirmed "its adherence to the position of the Iraqi government and people in rejecting the normalisation of relations and its support for the Palestinian people."
The statement affirmed the position of the Iraqi people, both historical and present, who see Palestine as their just cause, which does not expire with any statute of limitations. It also stressed that Palestine is the moral compass, as well as the international legal and humanitarian compass. Many popular parties, government officials, and even the army leadership quickly denounced the convening of the conference.
It has united Iraqis in anger against the position, bringing together a people who rarely agree since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the institutionalisation of sectarian and ethnic quotas. The position of the Kurdistan Regional Government, which claimed that the meeting took place without its knowledge, consent and participation, was ridiculous, as it is known to all that any meeting, regardless of its size, does not take place without the approval of the security authorities, let alone a conference like this. The conference is in line with the position of the leaders of the region towards Israel, as well as their visits and the extent of the expansion of the Israeli interests in favour of the region's separation from Iraq.
However, if the purpose of holding the conference is to test the waters with the Iraqi government, based on its link with the US in accordance with the Strategic Framework Agreement, then the result was completely opposite to what was expected by the organisers, as the Palestinian cause regained its priority, by the strength of the popular will. And the depth of the relationship between the Palestinian and Iraqi peoples, contrary to the title of "peace and recovery."
The result was also undermining the conference's goal, thanks to the speakers themselves who failed to present a unified speech in line with the centre's policy, which invited them and covered their expenses. Their poor speeches combined sectarian agitation (between Sunnis and Shias) and the importance of the federation and the division of Iraq, confusing Judaism and Zionism, and attacking Iran to the point where they sometimes forgot to focus on "Israeli peace".
"Peace," which has become an unpleasant term because it contradicts the reality of the occupation, the settlement policy, racial discrimination, and the denial of the legitimate people's right to return to their country. It is a reality that accompanied the occupation state from the moment of its establishment and its machine guns killed Iraqis as well as Palestinians. According to Shay Hazkani's book Dear Palestine, during a meeting between the Israeli Chief of Staff Yigael Yadin and the Israeli army's high command in 1950, Yadin expressed his concern that most of the Jewish soldiers, who were recent immigrants from Iraq, did not display the level of hostility towards Arabs that he expected. He also said during the meeting that they must provoke feelings of hatred against the Iraqi Arabs even in times of peace, as they should not have any times of peace, and instead should encourage the spirit of revenge against the Iraqis.
The Erbil conference was organised by the New York-based Peace Communications Centre Founder and President Joseph Braude, who according to the centre's website "developed his Arabic to broadcast quality over a seven-year stint on Moroccan national radio and added Persian to his Arabic and Hebrew as a graduate student at the University of Tehran." He aims in his activities with others, including a Lebanese journalist, Tunisian singer, and Iraqi Kurdish civil activist, to combat "anti-Semitism" and develop a strategy on how to defeat generations of anti-Semitic messages and rejection in the media, mosques, and Arab schools, according to a book by Braude.
Braude tried, in vain, to polish the images of the Iraqi contributors and give great importance to their positions and roles, during his interviews with the media, as a justification for him choosing them. However, their confusion in conveying his call to the Iraqis to encourage normalisation with Israel must have reminded him of what a commander of one of the American occupation army's divisions said in 2006 when a journalist asked him about the failure of the American forces to eliminate the "Iraqi insurgents" despite the American military superiority and the recruitment of Iraqi agents. The commander sighed and replied: "The problem is that the best people are fighting on the other side."
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 27 September 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.