Iraq Attacks Israel; What Should Happpen Next?
On May 26, Iraq approved a poorly thought out authoritarian law; its implications will hurt Iraqis in the diaspora, Iraqis in Iraq, and the Iraqi economy. The law criminalizes non-existent ties with Israel, but also prohibits Free Masonry, reflecting the ignorance of lawmakers and their focus on irrelevant politicking rather than addressing the real problems that Iraq faces.
Under penalty of death or life in prison, the law prohibits Iraqis and alien residents of Iraq from normalizing any ties with or contacting “the Zionist entity.” It also forbids promoting “any ideas, principles, ideologies or behavior[s] that are Zionist or Free Mason, using any tools, including over social media.”
Regulating ideas is an oppressive measure that belongs in totalitarian and authoritarian states, not in a country like Iraq that holds free and fair elections every four years. When parliaments, like Iraq’s Council of Deputies, do regulate ideas, they infringe on liberty and practice tyranny of the majority.
The new Iraqi law, which goes into effect on June 10, has global jurisdiction. Iraqi Americans, for example, will risk their lives if they ever talk to fellow Americans who might happen to be Israeli nationals. Tens of thousands of Iraqi expats in the UAE might face a similar risk if their employers instruct them to deal with Israelis.
Meanwhile, Americans who live in Iraq are unlikely to face execution or imprisonment if they communicate with Israelis, but are likely be deported or have their assets confiscated.
American companies in Iraq will not be spared either. Energy giant Exxon, for example, has two affiliates: ExxonMobil Iraq and ExxonMobil Iraqi Kurdistan Region. If Exxon bids for any business in Israel, it will risk termination of business and the loss of assets in Iraq.
The new Iraqi legislation will thus force an exodus of foreign investments and human capital. Iraqi legislators have clearly not thought out the law’s implications, and have most likely drafted and approved it in a hurry, probably for politicking reasons. Had Iraqi lawmakers done their homework, they would have at least learned the difference between Zionism and Free Masonry.
Why Free Masonry? Because that is the extent of knowledge of most Iraqi legislators on most issues outside Iraq. Qais al-Khazaali, a cleric whose pro-Iran militia won three out of parliament’s 329 seats in October, once said that “the goal of Israel is to occupy Iraq as indicated by the two blue lines on the entity’s flag and per the Torah’s prophecy — from the Euphrates to the Nile is your country, Sons of Israel.”
Iraqi pundits peddle similar antisemitism, writing that Zionism’s goal is to spread vice and homosexuality across the Middle East, and that a global prostitution network has its headquarters in Tel Aviv.
When delusions replace reality, laws become absurd. Iraq and Israel never had diplomatic ties, and yet, Iraqi lawmakers found it urgent to legislate a law criminalizing those non-existent ties.
The law becomes even more absurd when realizing that, since its elections were held in October, the Iraqi parliament has failed to elect a president and designate a new prime minister. While the state is run by an interim executive authority, and Iraq teeters on the brink of becoming a failed state, Iraqi parliamentarians see taking a swipe at Israel as a priority over all other pressing issues.
By legislating the anti-Israel law, Iraq’s parliament violated a constitutional mandate that restricts its role at this period to electing its top three officials — the speaker, the president, and the prime minister. Until those officials are elected, parliament cannot legislate, and yet it did.
Using Israel as a bogeyman is a known tactic in many Arab countries. This time, the biggest bloc in Iraq’s parliament, instructed by Shiite firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is using Israel as a stand-in for America.
After the October election, al-Sadr formed a 200-MP majority coalition that promised to disarm and disband pro-Iran Iraqi militias. The militias countered by accusing al-Sadr of doing America’s bidding. To brandish his anti-Western credentials, al-Sadr took out his anger on Israel. His bloc, the biggest in parliament with 73 seats, introduced the law that was approved by consensus. Even the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the fourth biggest in parliament and known for its friendly position toward the US and Israel, was scared to go against consensus and hence voted for the law.
Perhaps populist Iraqi legislators thought that they could get away with enacting the harshest anti-normalization law in the world. But such laws will not hurt Israel, which has little or no ties with Iraq. The law will endanger the lives and properties of Iraqis and Americans. To protect these Americans, Washington should impress on the Iraqi state that it cannot tolerate a law that hurts its national interests, as well as those of one of its allies.
Should Iraqi officials dig in their heels, Washington might want to consider imposing sanctions on Iraqi officials who legislated the law, in addition to those who plan to enforce it. The Iraqi economy is in shambles and is heavily reliant on oil exports. The last thing that Iraqis need is to let populism push them off the global economic grid. From their days under Saddam Hussein, Iraqis know best how much misery sanctions can bring.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Follow Hussain on Twitter @hahussain