Iraqi parliamentarians on Tuesday demanded an official investigation into reports alleging that Iraqi officials have visited Israel on numerous occasions over the past year.
Israel’s foreign ministry on Sunday said that three delegations from Iraq visited Israel in recent months, with the latest visit taking place only a few weeks ago.
The statement, published on Twitter, did not name the officials and did not specify whether they were members of parliament but said they included “Sunni and Shiite figures that have influence in Iraq”. It said they visited the Yad Vashem museum – Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust – and met with academics and Israeli officials.
Israeli television station Hadashot described the Iraqis as “local leaders” and said their trip to Israel was not part of an official state visit. But, Israeli academic, Edy Cohen, said on Tuesday that the last delegation to visit Israel consisted of a number of parliamentarians including Ahmed Al Jubouri, Alia Nassif and Ahmed Al Jarba – a claim that the lawmakers themselves have denied.
The announcement caused controversy in Iraq, which does not recognize Israel as an official and legitimate state. It also prompted the deputy speaker of parliament, Hassan Al Kaabi, to demand a probe “to identify those who crossed a red line”.
“We call for an investigation to identify those who went to the occupied territory particularly if they are lawmakers,” Mr Al Kaabi said in a statement.
One Iraqi member of parliament, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that he believes the reports are false but noted the foreign minister will be called in for questioning over the issue.
"The Foreign Relations Committee of the Parliament has requested an investigation into the matter, and I think the Foreign Minister Mohammed Al Hakim will be called into question," he told The National.
“I think these allegations are false and are aimed at sabotaging the reputation of politicians,” the official said.
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The list of names published by Mr Cohen on Twitter on Monday prompted a backlash from both Israeli and Iraqi officials.
The spokesman of Israel’s foreign ministry, Emmanuel Nahshon, urged the academic to remove the list from Twitter, saying that it “would threaten the lives of those mentioned”.
Mr Al Jubouri, one of the Iraqi parliamentarian listed, denied he had ever visited Israel. “I will never set foot on occupied Palestinian land until we are able to liberate Palestinians,” he said on Twitter.
Ms Nassif, another parliamentarian mention by Mr Cohen, also denied the allegations.
“I am shocked to see my name published on Zionist media, this impacts our reputation and honour,” she said.
The alleged visit by the Iraqi delegation follows a dramatic rise in interaction between Israelis and Iraqis, mainly through social media, Elizabeht Tsurkov, research fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking told The National.
“Iraqis express to Israelis the desire to establish peace between the two countries. Iraqis, particularly the liberal among them, express nostalgia for a time when Iraq was more welcoming of minorities, including the ancient Babylonian Jewish community that was forced to flee Iraq in the 1940s and 1950s following anti-Jewish pogroms and legal measures,” Ms Tsurkov said.
Iraqi populist cleric, Moqtada Al Sadr, issued a statement last year welcoming the return of Iraqi Jews who fled the country after 1948.
Mr Al Sadr was asked by one of his followers if Jews could now return to Iraq under his leadership.
The populist leader’s bloc won the largest number of seats in Iraq's legislative election last year.
"If their loyalty was to Iraq, they are welcome,” he said, adding that Jews who wanted to return to the country could receive full citizenship rights.
A significant Iraqi Jewish community lives in Israel and regularly calls for a normalisation of ties between Baghdad and the Jewish state.