Iraqi politicians under fire over alleged visits to Israel

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that 15 “influential Shia and Sunni (Iraqi) personalities” visited Israel in 2018.
Friday 11/01/2019
Iraqi lawmakers are seen during the first session of the new Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq September 3, 2018. (Reuters)
Iraqi lawmakers are seen during the first session of the new Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq September 3, 2018. (Reuters)

LONDON - A group of Iraqi politicians have come under criticism for allegedly visiting Israel, although they denied having made such a trip. Iraq regards Israel as an enemy state and the two countries do not have diplomatic ties.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said on Twitter that 15 “influential Shia and Sunni (Iraqi) personalities” visited Israel in 2018 but did not identify the Iraqis. The ministry said the Iraqi figures had met with Israeli officials.

“We see it as a positive step and as a demonstration that we can and should establish a good dialogue with our neighbours in the region and particularly with Iraq,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told the DPA German news agency.

A spokesman for the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem told Agence France-Presse that “a group of ten Iraqis” had “undertaken a guided tour in late December.” He did not give details on the identity of the Iraqi officials.

The reported visit was met with criticism by Iraqi commentators and officials.

Furat al-Tamimi, a member of the Iraqi parliament Foreign Relations Committee, told al-Sumeriyah news channel the supposed visit would be discussed with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. Tamimi said that, if the visit had taken place, the matter would be referred to Iraqi security services.

Hassan Karim al-Kaabi, first deputy speaker of the Iraqi parliament, called for an investigation “to identify those who went to the occupied territory, particularly if they are lawmakers.”

“Going to an occupied land is a red line and a sensitive issue for Muslims across the world,” he said.

Private Israeli television station Hadashot described the Iraqi visitors as “local leaders,” who stressed that their trip was not an official one. Hadashot reported that the visits were mainly of a “social-cultural nature.”

Israeli journalist Edy Cohen said on Twitter that the Iraqi visitors included three Nineveh province lawmakers (Ahmed al-Jubouri, Ahmed al-Jarba and Abdulrahim al-Shammari), one former Nineveh province lawmaker (Abdulrahman al-Liwayzi), a Kirkuk province lawmaker (Khaled al-Mufraji) and a Baghdad lawmaker (Alia Nsaif).

The Israeli Foreign Ministry branded identifying the Iraqi lawmakers as “irresponsible." The named Iraqi politicians denied visiting Israel.

Nsaif, who is allied with former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said Cohen’s list was meant to discredit Iraqi politicians critical of Israel. She said the list included the names of people who did not visit Israel, not those who made the trip.

“Why the names of those who actually went (to Israel) were not mentioned while those who did not go were mentioned? It’s because those (who were named) are opponents (of Israel),” Nsaif told Dijlah satellite television channel.

Liwayzi told Dijlah that Cohen was not credible and aimed at discrediting certain Iraqi figures. “The people mentioned are from the Binaa bloc,” said Liwayzi, in a reference to the Iran-backed parliamentary alliance led by militia leader Hadi al-Amiri. “Everyone knows that the Binaa bloc includes resistance (anti-Israel) factions,” he said.

Liwayzi confirmed there are Iraqi figures who have visited Israel but said that they were not lawmakers or politicians. “I met with the Palestinian ambassador to Iraq and he mentioned that there are writers and media workers of Iraqi origin but carry European passports who have visited Israel. They are not politicians,” he said.

Mithal al-Alusi, an Iraqi politician who came under fire for publicly visiting Israel to attend a counterterrorism conference in September 2004, called on parliament not to punish those who visit Israel.

“It is not in Iraq’s interest to be isolated,” he told Alhurra television. “We must distinguish between peace and surrender,” he added, in a reference to establishing ties with Israel.

Iraqi representative at the 2017 Miss Universe pageant Sarah Idan courted controversy in Iraq in June after visiting Israel and having a photo taken with Miss Israel Adar Gandelsman.

Israel drew widespread condemnation in Iraq when it publicly backed the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2017.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry in May established an Arabic-language Facebook page dedicated to fostering ties with Iraq. Israeli diplomats told the Times of Israel that the page served as a “digital embassy” to Iraq.