Iraq resists push for ties with Tel Aviv

An audience of dozens seated in a conference room

Officials and public figures gather at a conference hosted by the pro-Israel group Center for Peace Communications in Erbil, Iraq, on 24 September.


The Iraqi government is taking action against officials and public figures who called for full normalization of relations with Israel at a conference in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

The conference on Friday was hosted by the Center for Peace Communications, a US-based nonprofit that promotes ties between Israel and Arab countries. It was reportedly attended by hundreds of people.

Long-time Israel lobbyist and former US “peace process” diplomat Dennis Ross sits on the center’s board of directors.

The organization’s COO, Michael Nahum, lived in Israel, where he studied at IDC Herzliya, a university closely tied to the state’s military and official propaganda apparatus.

This fact is disclosed on the Center for Peace Communications website, but curiously is omitted from Nahum’s page on the professional networking site Linkedin.

​​Nahum also lived in Damascus “during the early phases of the Syrian civil war,” according to his organization’s website, supposedly to increase his fluency in Arabic.

From 2011 to 2016, Nahum worked for AECOM, a major contractor with the US defense department where, according to his group’s website, he provided analysis on such topics as “Syrian militia dynamics” to “high-level US government clients.”

Speaking at the conference, Sahar al-Tai, who works at Iraq’s culture ministry, called on Iraq to join the so-called Abraham Accords – the normalization deals brokered by the United States last year between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco.

Propaganda tactics

Al-Tai employed a common propaganda tactic of using religious and cultural tolerance to mask political, economic and military rewards that come with normalizing relations with Israel.

“Iraq today has to change its policy for the sake of peace in the region, it has become imperative that Israel be recognized as a friendly country,” al-Tai said, “especially since about half a million Israelis are of Iraqi origin.”

Al-Tai did not mention the sordid story of how Iraqi Jews ended up in Israel – a history that involved sabotage and terrorism by Israel’s Mossad spy agency, aimed at destroying the sense of security for Iraq’s Jews so that they would leave en masse.

Painting conflict in the region as stemming from a lack of cultural or religious understanding is also a way to obscure its true origin: Israel’s violent and ongoing dispossession and military occupation of Palestinians and theft of their land.

Al-Tai proposed establishing committees to promote trade and investments within the Emirati-Israeli framework.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of deals have already been signed between the Emirates and Israel, further tying their economies together, including agreements to sell Israeli settlement goods in the UAE.

The Gulf state hopes to raise the value of its trade with Israel to a staggering $1 trillion over the next decade.

The leader of the Sons of Iraq Awakening movement, Wisam al-Hardan, also advocated Iraqi normalization with Israel during the Erbil conference.

In addition, al-Hardan published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

“We demand that Iraq join the Abraham Accords internationally,” he writes. “We call for full diplomatic relations with Israel.”

Al-Hardan’s article regurgitates Zionist propaganda that Iraq expelled its Jewish population.

“Through their forced migration, Iraq effectively cut one of its own principal veins,” al-Hardan asserts.

But in fact, as Columbia University professor Joseph Massad has explained, Israel waged a global pressure campaign on Iraq to allow Jews to leave.

This campaign involved fabrications that Nuri al-Said, the British-backed strongman who ruled Iraq at the time, was persecuting Jews.

Amid economic pressure from Britain and the United States, Iraq relented and passed a law allowing Jews to emigrate.

As Massad notes, Zionist agents in Iraq wired their handlers in Israel, “We are carrying on our usual activity in order to push the law through faster.” That was the prelude to the departure of some 120,000 Jews.

Al-Hardan’s article also contains the usual animosity aimed at Iran and Israel’s other regional enemies held by Arab rulers seeking to get in bed with Israel.

Al-Hardan gleefully describes the “legality, decency, peace, and progress” that he imagines normalization with Israel will bring.

Evidently, he has not asked Palestinians what sort of “legality” and “decency” or other benefits they experience under Israel’s apartheid regime.

Al-Hardan acknowledges that Friday’s conference was a stepping stone towards normalization, saying that “next we will seek face-to-face talks with Israelis.”

Amid uproar in Iraq over the conference, the Sons of Iraq Awakening movement – known as al-Sahwa in Arabic – suspended al-Hardan from its leadership.

Al-Sahwa was founded after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and its members were directly paid by the American occupiers to help control the country – a total of at least $370 million.

Chemi Peres, son of Shimon Peres, the late Israeli president who was responsible for decades of crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese people, also addressed the conference virtually.


The Iraqi government said it unequivocally opposed any normalization with Israel. Arrest warrants were issued against some of the participants, including al-Hardan.

Colonel Wayne Marotto, the spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, a US-led military effort to “defeat ISIS,” distanced the operation from the conference.

The US-led military coalition “had no prior knowledge of the event, nor do we have any affiliation with its participants,” Marotto said.

In 2009, the Iraqi government disbanded the US-backed al-Sahwa militias, though in 2014 the Obama administration considered reviving them as a tool against ISIS.

The United States undoubtedly favors Iraq-Israel normalization.

However, given its past close association with al-Sahwa, the US military is likely concerned that al-Hardan’s open embrace of Tel Aviv could discredit whatever Iraqi allies the US still has.

Operation Inherent Resolve continues to operate inside Iraq and train and equip Iraqi government forces.

In response to Marotto’s comments, Robert Satloff, the head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a major Israel lobby think tank, urged the US to back the “brave Iraqis” calling for normalization with Israel.

The normalization efforts were well-received by other Israel lobbyists and leaders.

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s prime minister, celebrated the event, as did right-wing anti-Palestinian Israel lobby groups StandWithUs and the Anti-Defamation League.

The Center for Peace Communications previously hosted discussions on YouTube about how Israel should have developed closer ties with Syria’s opposition.

As a matter of fact, Israel directly armed and funded al-Qaida-linked jihadist armed groups in Syria.

Ali Abunimah contributed reporting.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.