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Ex-Official Remarks on Normalizing Ties with Israel Spurs Controversy in Iraq

Ex-Official Remarks on Normalizing Ties with Israel Spurs Controversy in Iraq

Friday, 16 October, 2020 - 05:30
A poster of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, right, is hung in Tahrir Square during anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq, last February. (AP)

Iraq’s former deputy prime minister and well-known politician Bahaa al-Araji made contentious remarks that sparked widespread controversy over the chances of Iraq normalizing ties with Israel.


Najaf, the center of Shiite political power in Iraq, would play a major role in the normalization of ties with Israel, Araji said.


In an interview with a local television channel funded by Iran, Araji, who is also a former member of the Sadrist Movement, said that “Iraq is very prepared to normalize relations with Israel, and the conditions are well-suited.”


“It is possible that the normalization decision will come from the Najaf governorate, not from the capital, Baghdad,” he said, referring to the Shiite religious authorities.


Araji was one of the most prominent leaders of the Sadrist Movement, an Iraqi national movement led by Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.


Despite Shiite authorities in Najaf not responding to Araji’s statements, Sadr spokesman Saleh Muhammad Al-Iraqi used his Facebook page to deliver a serious threat.


“The enemy of Najaf … if he does not get disciplined, we will punish him,” al-Iraqi said in a post directed at Araji.


Normalizing ties with Israel has long divided Iraqis into three main groups: supporters, oppositionists and those who do not consider the matter a pressing issue because of the geographical distance between Baghdad and Tel Aviv.


The third group sees that Iraq suffers from division, corruption, violence and mismanagement and is not ready to address the question of normalizing ties with Tel Aviv.


The Iraqi government, under Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, has elected to ignore other Arab states normalizing ties with Israel.


Asked about the UAE and Israel normalizing ties, Kadhimi told the Washington Post that it was a UAE decision and that Iraq must not interfere.


Mithal al-Alusi , the leader of the Iraqi Ummah Party, on the other hand, outspokenly calls for pushing Iraq towards normalizing ties with Israel.


In 2004, after making a public visit to Israel, Alusi was expelled from the Iraqi National Congress. He was indicted by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq for "having contacts with enemy states.”


A year later, Alusi's car was ambushed by armed assailants in the Hayy Al-Jamia neighborhood of Baghdad. His two sons Ayman, 29, and Jamal, 24, were killed in the attack, as well as one of his bodyguards.


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