BAGHDAD (Dispatches) -- Baghdad has condemned a conference organized by a U.S. think-tank and held in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region on Friday that called for the normalization of ties with the occupying regime of Israel.
The event, the first such initiative of its kind in Iraq - a historic foe of Israel - was allegedly attended by more than 300 Iraqis, including tribal leaders.
The organizers, the New York-based so-called Center for Peace Communications (CPC), advocate for normalizing relations between the Zionist regime and Arab countries, alongside working to establish ties between civil society organizations.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) maintains cordial contacts with the occupying regime of Israel, but the federal government in Baghdad, which has fought in Arab-Israeli wars, does not have diplomatic ties with the Zionist regime.
Four Arab nations - the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan - last year agreed to normalize ties with Israel in a U.S.-sponsored process dubbed the Abraham Accords.
Palestinians denounced the normalization deals, describing them as a “stab in the back”.
“We demand our integration into the Abraham Accords,” said Sahar al-Tai, one of the attendees, reading a closing statement in a conference room at a hotel in the Kurdish regional capital Erbil.
“Just as these agreements provide for diplomatic relations between the signatories and Israel, we also want normal relations with Israel,” she said.
“No force, local or foreign, has the right to prevent this call,” added Tai, head of research at the Iraqi federal government’s culture ministry.
However, Iraq’s federal government rejected the conference’s call for normalization in a statement on Saturday and dismissed the gathering as an “illegal meeting”.
The conference “was not representative of the population’s [opinion] and that of residents in Iraqi cities, in whose name these individuals purported to speak,” the statement said.
The Sons of Iraq Awakening Movement (Al-Sahwa) denied supporting or joining the gathering soon after a statement was released, citing the group among the participants.
“Based on our ethical commitment and responsibility, we announce that they do not represent anyone, and they are not allowed to exploit tribal or regional personnel to take a position,” leader of the movement, Ahmed Abu Risha, said.
The office of Iraq’s President Barham Saleh, himself a Kurd, joined in the condemnation.
“The Iraqi presidency strongly rejects the normalization of relations with Israel and calls for respect for the will of the Iraqi people and their national and independent decision,” Salih said.
Influential cleric Moqtada Sadr urged Erbil to prevent such “terrorist-Zionist gatherings, otherwise, the Iraqi government must declare the conference’s participants as criminals and arrest them.”
In a tweet, al-Sadr also warned that if Erbil does not prevent such meetings, “we will take the actions that we are religiously, intellectually and nationally responsible for.”
Ahmed Assadi, an MP with the ex-paramilitary group Hashd al-Sha’abi, branded the participants “traitors in the eyes of the law”.
Speakers at the conference included Chemi Peres, the head of a Zionist foundation established by his father, the late Zionist president Shimon Peres.
Kurdish-Iraqi leaders have repeatedly visited Occupied Palestine over the decades and local politicians have openly demanded Iraq normalize ties with Israel, which itself backed a 2017 secessionist referendum in the autonomous region.
The head of the National Approach bloc also condemned and strongly rejected the invitation to attend the conference, and called for the prosecution of those who call for normalization with Israel.
“Iraqi law criminalizes these treacherous actions against the principles of the Iraqis, and… these actions are also against the Iraqis’ historical positions in support of the Palestinian cause and combating Zionist arrogance and its extreme criminality,” Ammar Tohme said.
Tohme called on “the Iraqi government, parliament, national political forces, social activities, and Arab tribes to adopt a united and courageous position in condemning and rejecting these malicious plans.”
Ammar al-Hakim, an Iraqi Shia cleric and head of the National Wisdom Movement (Hikma), denounced the gathering.
“We reject and condemn meetings, rallies and calls in Iraq for the normalization of relations with the occupying Zionist regime,” al-Hakim said in a statement.
He stressed that the Palestinian cause is the first issue of Arabs and Muslims, reaffirming full support for the Palestinian people and their struggle to reclaim their rights.