ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi officials on Monday asked the country’s Foreign Ministry to investigate reports of Iraqi delegations making their way to Israel and meeting with government representatives and academics.
Three delegations from Iraq secretly visited Israel in the past few months and reportedly met with government officials, as well as academics, to discuss Iraqi-Jewish heritage and build a foundation for future ties between the two countries, Israeli Hadashot TV news reported on Sunday.
The delegates were some 15 Iraqis, “influential Sunni and Shia figures from Baghdad,” who also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, the report explained.
In a statement published on Monday, the Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Hassan al-Kaabi, called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to investigate “what was reported in Western and Zionist media” on the alleged visit.
Such visits are highly uncommon since Iraq is formally at war with Israel and is a member of the Arab League, which boycotts Israel. The country has prohibited its passport holders from traveling to Israel.
“Going to an occupied land [Israel] is a red line and a very sensitive issue for Muslims,” Kaabi said.
The Israeli report did not identify the members of the delegations, nor did it specify with which government officials they held meetings in Israel, but stated that the last visit took place in December.
The delegates were not from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which has been more open to the Jewish state, the Israeli media stressed, but rather from “Iraq proper- that is, Baghdad.”
Kaabi added that he has asked the Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee to “investigate the accuracy of the [claims] and disclose the names of the officials who visited the occupied territories.”
The official Facebook and Twitter accounts of “Israel Speaks Arabic,” administered by Israeli Foreign Ministry, also confirmed the Iraqi delegations’ visits.
Furat al-Tamimi, a member of the Iraqi Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee, stated that the committee will hold a meeting with Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hakim to discuss a number of issues, including the reports of Iraqi delegations secretly visiting Israel.
“The subject of the visit, if it really happened, is the responsibility of the [Iraqi] security agencies, specifically the intelligence and national security apparatuses, and they must uncover the truth of these allegations,” Timimi said, quoted by Iraqi al-Sumaria TV.
“Israeli reports are likely to be part of a game played by Israel to create strife inside Iraq,” he said.
The meetings were mostly of a “social-cultural nature,” the Hadashot TV stated. The goal of the three visits was “to build ground for future ties” between Iraq and Israel, with delegates returning to Iraq as “kinds of future ambassadors” for Israel there, the TV added.
The Jewish community in Iraq is the oldest outside of Israel. Between 1950-1952, around 120,000 – 130,000 Iraqi Jews were airlifted to Israel, leaving a community of some 10,000 in the country. Nowadays, there are an estimated 230,000 Iraqi Jewish descendants in Israel.
Over the past decades, Iraq has been in a formal state of war with Israel. Iraqi forces participated in the 1967 and 1973 wars against Israel. A decade later, in 1981, Israeli warplanes destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor, which was built by Saddam Hussein in the southeast of Baghdad, named Osirak.
Nowadays, Iraq and Israel hold no diplomatic, socio-cultural, or economic relations.
Editing by Nadia Riva