In northern Iraq last week, some 300 tribal leaders, politicians, and other notables—among them both Sunnis and Shiites—gathered to call for peace with Israel. The government swiftly responded by moving to arrest all the attendees, while Iran-backed militias threatened them with violence. Hussain Abdul-Hussain sets the event against the backdrop of Saddam Hussein’s longstanding support for Palestinian terrorism, and Palestinian leaders’ support for him:
When Iraqis think of Islam, they think of their capital Baghdad, the Jewel of the Abbasid Caliphate, which was the apex of Muslim civilization when Muslims were leading the world in knowledge, science, literature, and economics. When Iraqis think of Islam, or Arab nationalism, they rarely think of Jerusalem, and hence, Palestine rarely meant much to their Muslim or Arab identity.
When America launched Operation Desert Storm to eject Saddam’s troops from Kuwait, the Iraqi dictator calculated that he could line up the Arabs behind him by firing scud missiles at Israel. . . . The Arabs—including radicals like Syria’s Hafez al-Assad and Libya’s Moammar Ghadaffi—never took Saddam’s side. Only Palestinians took to the streets and cheered for Saddam, shouting “Oh Saddam our love, hit Tel Aviv.” (It rhymes in Arabic).
After the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the UN imposed an embargo on Iraq, which emptied Saddam’s coffers. Saddam still paid enormous sums to [the families of Palestinians “martyrs”] while Iraqis were suffering a famine. Inside Iraq, Palestinians and their families were Saddam’s most notorious [domestic] intelligence operatives, and enjoyed Saddam’s generosity while Iraqis lived in poverty. When America toppled Saddam, Iraqis brought down Saddam’s statues and ejected his Palestinians.
But for Iran and its proxies—which exercise enormous influence in Baghdad—the anti-Israel cause is of paramount importance. It is they, according to Abdul-Hussain, who are pushing to punish those calling for peace with Israel.