‘Normalising’ relationships with Israel now carries the death penalty in Iraq

A new law may force Iraqi politicians to put their money where their mouth is on the question of Palestine solidarity and anti-imperialism.

Proletarian writers

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Supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr gather outside the Iraqi parliament as the bill banning normalisation with Israel is being passed. The new law cuts to the heart of anti-imperialism in the middle east, being perfectly designed to separate those who mean it when they talk of ‘solidarity’ with Palestine and those for whom such talk is merely a necessary lip service paid at election time.

Proletarian writers

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Since elections back in October 2021, Iraq has been without a proper government. The coalition forces headed by Muqtada al-Sadr were the biggest winners in those elections, but the rival Coordination Framework coalition played games with the constitution, blocking al-Sadr from forming a government.

Whilst the Coordination Framework has been able to prevent al-Sadr from taking office, it has not been able to form a stable government itself. So while the political class has been playing these dog-in-the-manger games, Iraq has remained without a functioning administration.

Fed up with the Coordination Network’s chronic obstructionism, al-Sadr finally pulled his MPs out of the parliament in June. But before he did so, he lobbed a political grenade into the arena. He persuaded parliament to vote unanimously for a law banning ‘normalisation’ with Israel – a crime which can now carry a sentence of life imprisonment or death.

Anyone courting the popular vote in the Arab and Persian world will feel obliged to pay at least lip service in support of the struggle of the Palestinian people against the continuing occupation of their homeland by the zionists. The effect of the new act is to flush out those whose support for Palestine is no more than a form of words – a sop thrown to the masses to curry favour, whilst in practice they collaborate with the zionists and their imperialist paymasters.

All Iraq’s MPs voted for the bill, though doubtless more than a few had their fingers crossed behind their backs. But the Kurdish president of Iraq, Barham Salih, walked straight into al-Sadr’s trap, refusing outright to sign off on the bill. (The bill went through automatically, becoming law after two weeks minus Salih’s signature.)

This gave al-Sadr the opportunity to hit back at a political rival, tweeting that it was “very, very shameful that the so-called president of the Republic of Iraq … refuses to sign the law” criminalising relations with Israel, and saying how bad it was for Iraq to be stuck with a president who wanted to do deals with zionists. Salih is a close ally of Masoud Barzani, a Kurdish politician with a history of collaboration with Israel.

In point of fact, Salih is an opportunist with more than one iron in the fire, tacking politically between Israel and Iran, and cultivating contacts within the Coordination Network. Whilst the Coordination Network has been playing a destructive and destabilising role and includes many dubious elements within its broad anti-Sadr front, it would be a mistake to see the struggle as simply pitting the veteran anti-imperialist resistance leader against a uniformly reactionary Coordination Network.

The latter, for example, includes groups allied to Iran, particularly the revolutionary guards (IRGC). The commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, Ismail Qaani, is even said to have attended some Coordination Network meetings in person.

But the beauty of al-Sadr’s bill is that it cuts through all the strategic ambiguities, conflicting allegiances and personal ambitions (including al-Sadr’s own), confronting middle-eastern politicians of all stripes with the one clear choice: Do you stand with Palestine and the fight against imperialism, or do you stand with zionism and with imperialism?