'Impossible': Baghdad Politician Explains Why Iraq and Israel Are Nowhere Close to Normalising Ties
A recent forum that called on the Iraqi government to recognise Israel has been met with anger and violence in Iraq. This is not only due to the country's sympathy for the Palestinians; it can also be attributed to the limitations of the local political system.
Last Friday, when more than 300 prominent Iraqis gathered in Erbil and called on their central government to establish relations with Israel, many were taken by surprise.
In Israel, it led to excitement, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett commenting favourably on the forum and saying that his countrymen were ready to welcome peace.
In Iraq, however, the reaction was different; Saad Al Mutalibi, a Baghdad-based independent politician, says the forum prompted "violence and anger".
"In Baghdad, the general feeling was that the people expressed their total opposition to the conference, and there have even been calls to murder those who participated in the forum."
On Sunday, the country's judiciary released a statement saying it had issued arrest warrants for three participants of the gathering. It also stated that Iraq would take legal actions against the others, once they were identified.
Standing by the Palestinians
Al Mutalibi explains this harsh Iraqi stance is due to the belief that a peace pact with Israel was not possible until the "Palestinian issue" was resolved, and until Palestinians were given an opportunity to establish their own independent state. But he also admits that many of his countrymen were brought up on the idea of rejecting the notion of Zionism and opposing the Jewish state.
Iraq has a long history of violent relations with Israel. In 1948, when the state of Israel was established and several Arab states launched a war against it, Baghdad sent its troops.
Years later, during the 1967 Six Day War, it deployed tanks, aircraft and men to the Israeli border with Jordan. In 1973 it participated in the Yom Kippur War, sending its troops to Syria and amid the First Gulf War of 1991, when it launched several rockets at Israel.
That history and the notion of "stolen Palestinian land" cannot be gone unnoticed, says Al Mutalibi, and this is the reason why, he believes, a peace agreement with Israel was an unlikely possibility.
Impossible Is Nothing?
However, recent history has shown that in a world of common threats and mutual interests, foes can easily turn into friends.
Such was the case with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which normalised ties with Israel in September 2020. Such was the case with Sudan, which agreed to formally recognise the Jewish state in exchange for its removal from the US terrorist list, and such was the case with Morocco, which in return obtained Washington's recognition of the disputed Western Sahara region as part of its territory.
However, Al Mutalibi is certain that the US administration will not be able to pull similar tricks in Iraq.
"Iraq is not a poor country and Washington will not be able to bribe us like it did in Sudan or Morocco. Plus, the political system here is different. In the UAE and Bahrain, people obey the monarch. In Iraq, we have a distribution of power, and people don't obey anyone here."
However, the Iranian factor is also considered to be an obstacle to the normalisation of Israel-Iraq ties.
Iran is believed to operate various militias in Iraq and have a say in the politics of its war-torn neighbour. As Israel's main rival for decades, Iran is likely to oppose any deal with the Jewish state.
While in the upcoming parliamentary polls (set to take place on 10 October) pro-Iranian politicians might see their power decrease, Al Mutalibi remains certain that "no matter who wins that race, he will not normalise relations with Israel".
"If anyone dared to do that, the reaction would be a general revolt and anger. For us, this is simply impossible," he summed up.