On Friday, over 300 Iraqi leaders gathered at a conference hosted by the New York-based Center for Peace Communications, in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region of the country, to call for normalizing relations with Israel. The group, included Sunni and Shiites, youth activists and tribal leaders.
Iraqis call for peace with Israel
Wisam al-Hardan, leader of the Sons of Iraq Awakening movement, gave the opening address at the conference, following it up with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he called for Iraq to join the Abraham Accords signed in 2020 between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Morocco and Sudan have already joined in the Abraham Accords.
“Israel today, as you know, is a strong country and an inseparable part of the world and the United Nations,” Sahar al-Ta’i, a senior official in Iraq’s Culture Ministry told the attendees. “Iraq cannot neglect this fact and live in isolation from the world.”
Maj. Gen. Amir al-Jubouri, the current governor of the Iraqi Province of Nineveh, put a Biblical spin on the event.
“Abraham, peace be upon him, birthed a nation that paved the way for peace. Today, we and all his descendants from the three main religions bear responsibility to complete this path together,” said al-Jubouri.
Al-Jubouri commanded Iraqi Army forces attempting to oust the forces of ISIS Ifrom the Nineveh Governorate during the Battle of Mosul in 2016.
Sons of Ishmael doing repentance in the end-of-days
His comment, as well as the desire to attach themselves to the aptly named Abraham Accords, is well-timed for these pre-redemption times. Rabbi Nachman Kahana noted that the accords could bring the true Bnei Yishmael (the sons of Ishmael) to Israel, perhaps for the first time.
“The Palestinians are not the real Bnei Yishmael, Rabbi Kahana said. “The Palestinians are the result of all the nations that passed through the Fertile Crescent. With the Bedouins of this region and the true Arabs of the Persian Gulf, there is no mixing of blood. They were separate from the Persian and the Greeks.”
Rabbi Kahana noted that the arrival of the true Bnei Yishmael to the Temple Mount may be a part of the tshuva (repentance process) of Yishmael, citing a verse in Genesis.
“In this verse, Ishmael should have come first since he is older,” Rabbi Kahana noted, citing the medieval commentator Rashi who interpreted the incongruity in the verse to mean that Ishmael repented in his later years.
“Ishmael realized the spiritual superiority of Isaac and displayed this by allowing him to go first when burying their father,” Rabbi Kahana explained. He noted that this is being played out by the true Bnei Yishmael showing respect for the offspring of Jacob.”
But the arrival of the true Bnei Yishmael to the Temple Mount has end-of-days implications. The Zohar Hadash (Balak 68b) describes a process that will begin in the 274th year of the sixth millennium. This works out to be the year 5774 in the Hebrew calendar which began in September 2013. The Zohar predicts that the “Sons of Ishmael” will make war against the Messiah, and will “come and bow down before God at the holy mountain in Jerusalem”. The text specifically uses the name of the God of the Jews, and not a generic term or the expression used for non-Jewish worship. This prediction of the Zohar predicts that the Arabs will worship the Jewish God on the Temple Mount and, in fact, that does seem to be what is happening.
The Zohar goes on to say that Edom will rule Israel for 12 months. At the end of 12 months, the world will shake, and during that time, the Shechina (heavenly presence) will return to dwell in the cave of Moses. The Messiah will hide for 9 months – similar to the period of pregnancy – and then the people in Israel will hear a sound like the blowing of a shofar.
In fact, the Temple Mount was largely ignored by the Arabs until Israel conquered it in 1967. During the First Crusade, Islam was uninterested in the Dome of the Rock and it was turned into a church while al-Aqsa, with its lead dome, was a modest mosque. In the early 20th century, the attention of the Muslim world was much more focused on the silver dome of al Aqsa than on the Dome of the Rock, which was not covered with gold until 1993, after the Jews began ascending to the Temple Mount. It appears that the Arabs become intensely interested in the site only when the Jews, and their God, are present.
This same prophecy is repeated in other sources, adding that the “Sons of Ishmael” will make war against the Messiah, and will “come and bow down before God at the holy mountain in Jerusalem”.
Opposition to Abraham Accords
The grassroots Iraqi desire for peace with Israel is facing harsh opposition. Iraqi President Barham Salih denounced the conference as “illegal” and accused the attendees of seeking to stir up unrest.
“The recent meeting held to promote [normalization] does not represent the people and residents of Iraq. It represents only those who participated in it,” Salih said.
The Iraqi government responded by issuing warrants for the arrest of al-Ta’i and al-Hardan. A warrant was also issued for the arrest of Mithal al-Alusi, an Iraqi Sunni politician and the leader of the Ummah Party. Though al-Alusi did not attend the conference last week, he has been active in calling for the normalization of relations with Israel in the past.
Iraqi authorities announced that the remaining participants would be arrested “as soon as their identities were determined.”
Association with “Zionist organizations” or promoting “Zionist values” is prohibited by Iraqi law though, in 2010, the punishment was downgraded from death to life imprisonment.
On Sunday, Al-Hardan distanced himself from his previous comments, telling Iraqi media that the organizers had described the conference to him as a “call for amity and tolerance among the Iraqi people after conquering the ISIS terrorism and restoring stability to the liberated cities… and ahead of upcoming elections.”
“I read the communique without a prior acknowledgment to its content. I was surprised that the Zionist entity and normalization with it were mentioned. Hereby, I denounce the content of the final communique and apologize before the people of my country, my beloved governorate, and my Tribe people. I offer my apologies to the people of Palestine and the entire Arabic and Islamic world.”
He went on to explain that his intention was to urge Iraq to “reconnect with the whole of our diaspora, including these Jews [of Iraqi descent].”
“We reject the hypocrisy in some quarters of Iraq that speaks kindly of Iraqi Jews while denigrating their Israeli citizenship, and the Jewish state, which granted them asylum,” Al-Hardan said.
US: Distancing from peace between Israel and Iraq
Even the US distanced itself from the initiative to establish relations between Israel and Iraq. Col. Wayne Marotto, spokesman for the US-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State, tweeted out on Sunday that the US supported the Iraqi government’s position.
.@CJTFOIR has just been made aware of announcements by both the GoI & the KRG relating to the recent conference held in Erbil to discuss the normalization of ties with Israel. @Coalition had no prior knowledge of the event, nor do we have any affiliation with its participants. pic.twitter.com/mMVY13Lh0r
— OIR Spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto (@OIRSpox) September 26, 2021
“[The International Coalition for Operation Inherent Resolve] has just been made aware of announcements by both the GoI & the KRG relating to the recent conference held in Erbil to discuss the normalization of ties with Israel. [The Global Coalition] had no prior knowledge of the event, nor do we have any affiliation with its participants,” tweeted Col. Wayne Marotto.
“[The Coalition] remains committed to supporting the [government of Iraq’s] enduring defeat daesh [ISIS] mission through advising, assisting and enabling the [Iraqi Security Forces’s] at the operational level,” he added.
The history behind the story
The conference represented a marked change as Iraq does not formally recognize Israel as a legitimate state and does not conduct any formal relations with Israel.
The Jewish community in Iraq was one of the earliest of the diaspora. In 722 BCE, Jews from the Northern Kingdom surviving the invasion by Assyria were taken there as slaves. A larger community was established in 586 BCE when the Babylonians conquered the southern tribes of Israel and enslaved the Jews. In later centuries, the region became more hospitable to Jews and it became the home to some of the world’s most prominent scholars who produced the Babylonian Talmud between 500-700 CE. Over the centuries, the community grew and by World War I, they accounted for one-third of Baghdad’s population. In 1936 the Iraq Directory claimed 120,000 Jews and Hebrew was listed as one of Iraq’s six languages.
This changed and In 1941, anti-Jewish riots called the Farhud took place in Iraq. This was partially instigated by Haj al Amin Husseini, the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem who was in exile in Iraq. Pogroms broke out and Zionism was mandated as a capital crime. In 1950, Iraqi Jews were permitted to leave the country within a year provided they forfeited their citizenship. A year later, however, the property of Jews who emigrated was frozen and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who chose to remain in the country. From 1949 to 1951, 104,000 Jews were evacuated from Iraq in Operations Ezra & Nechemia (named after the Jewish leaders who took their people back to Jerusalem from exile in Babylonia beginning in 597 BCE); another 20,000 were smuggled out through Iran.
Government persecution of Jews increased and in 2020, the US. State Department reported fewer than six adult members in the Baghdad Jewish community. It was estimated there were 70 to 80 Jewish families in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. There are possibly more, but some Jewish families are afraid to publicly acknowledge their religion for fear of persecution and practice their faith in secret. Other Jews may have converted to Islam.
Iraq has played an active role in wars against Israel and has officially been at war with Israel since 1948. In 1981, the Israeli Air Force carried out a long-range bombing mission and destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. In 1991, Sadaam Hussein responded to an invasion by Coalition Forces by firing Scud Missiles at Israeli cities.
There have been efforts to jumpstart relations between the two countries. In 2019, it was reported that three Iraqi delegations comprised of 15 political and religious figures, from both the Sunni and Shiite communities visited Israel. The delegations met with Israeli government officials and Israeli academics. The Iraqis also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.