Middle East

Iraqi Kurdistan conference pushes Baghdad-Israel normalisation

Iraqi security forces patrol as Shiite pilgrims they walk at al-Dora highway in Baghdad on September 24, 2021 towards the holy city of Karbala to mark the Arbaeen religious festivalPhoto by Sabah ARAR / AFP)

ERBIL: More than 300 Iraqis, including tribal leaders, attended a conference in autonomous Kurdistan organised by a US think-tank demanding a normalisation of relations between Baghdad and Israel, organisers said Saturday.

The first initiative of its kind in Iraq, where Israel's sworn enemy Iran has a very strong influence, the conference took place on Friday and was organised by the New York-based Center for Peace Communications (CPC).

The CPC advocates for normalising relations between Israel and Arab countries, alongside working to establish ties between civil society organisations.

Iraqi Kurdistan maintains cordial contacts with Israel, but the federal government in Baghdad does not have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Four Arab nations -- the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan -- last year agreed to normalise ties with Israel in a US-sponsored process dubbed the Abraham Accords.

"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 Arbil.

"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.

The 300 participants at the conference came from across Iraq, according to CPC founder Joseph Braude, a US citizen of Iraqi Jewish origin.

They included Sunni and Shiite representatives from "six governorates: Baghdad, Mosul, Salaheddin, Al-Anbar, Diyala and Babylon," extending to tribal chiefs and "intellectuals and writers", he told AFP by phone.

Other speakers at the conference included Chemi Peres, the head of an Israeli foundation established by his father, the late president Shimon Peres.

"Normalisation with Israel is now a necessity," said Sheikh Rissan al-Halboussi, an attendee from Anbar province, citing the examples of Morocco and the UAE.

Kurdish Iraqi leaders have repeatedly visited Israel over the decades and local politicians have openly demanded Iraq normalise ties with the Jewish state, which itself backed a 2017 independence referendum in the autonomous region.





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