Top Iraqi government officials are rejecting calls by a group of 300 prominent tribal leaders and other dignitaries to normalize ties with Israel.
Iraqi TV reported Saturday afternoon that Prime Minister Mustafa Khadhimi's office issued a statement calling the dignitaries' meeting Friday in the Kurdish capital of Irbil "illegal."
Arab media indicated that parliament Speaker Mohammed Halbousi and one of his deputies also rejected the call, along with Iraqi President Barham Salih.
The meeting was sponsored by the Center for Peace Communications, a U.S. peace advocacy and research group led by Joseph Braude, a Jewish American whose family fled Baghdad during the 1940s. Braude told the conference that those gathered in Irbil had made a "courageous decision."
He said he supported the efforts of leaders from six Iraqi provinces — Baghdad, Anbar, Mosul, Salahedin, Babil and Diyala — who their desire to enter into the framework of the Abrahamic accords (between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco).
'Sign of things to come'
Wissam Hardan, a Sunni tribal leader, told the conference that Iraq's federal system permitted different regions to express their support for normalizing ties with Israel.
He said that given Iraq's federal system of government, various parties were expressing their desire to normalize ties with Israel and tighten relations with the Israeli people.
Paul Sullivan, a Washington-based Middle East analyst, told VOA that "the meeting in Irbil to discuss Iraq improving ties with Israel caused an uproar in Baghdad," but that it "could be a sign of things to come. It could be an indication that the views on Israel are changing in some quarters of Iraq."
Sullivan added that the Kurds, who hosted the Friday conference, "have always been more open to Israel than other populations in Iraq."
Several Kurdish leaders backtracked on the conference after hearing of opposition from Baghdad, however, claiming that they weren't aware of the nature of the conference and that its organizers had misled attendees about its intent.
Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, which covered the meeting, suggested that it might have been intended "to test the waters inside Iraq for public reaction to normalizing ties with Israel."