In response to more than 300 leaders and public figures who came together in the Iraqi city of Erbil to call for diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, the country’s president declared the gathering “illegal,” the prime minister accused it of inciting “sectarian hatred,” a court issued arrest warrants for the organizers, and pro-Iranian militias issued death threats. Washington, meanwhile, has been noticeably silent. Eli Lake writes:
[S]o far the U.S. has not offered a word of support for the private Iraqi citizens who are now facing legal and extra-legal threats for seeking [peace with an American ally]. The only public statement from the U.S. came from Colonel Wayne Marotto, the spokesman for the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq. He tweeted that the U.S. “had no prior knowledge of the event, nor do we have any affiliation with its participants.” In other words, those Iraqis who want peace with Israel are on their own.
In the aftermath of the Erbil conference, one conclusion might be that most Iraqis are just not ready to make peace with Israel. . . . But there is a more plausible conclusion: Israel’s enemies are so afraid of a free debate on the Jewish state that they feel compelled to coerce a false consensus on the matter. As Joseph Braude, an organizer of the conference, told me: “The response has been a massive effort to destroy these people and send a message to the rest of the population who share their views to never open their mouths.”
The U.S. should protect the Iraqis who attended the Erbil conference. This is not only because it is in America’s interest that Iraq have a normal relationship with Israel. It is also because Iraq cannot be considered a free or democratic nation if its militias and courts are used to silence its own citizens.