As news of the conference spread, the Iraqi government and authorities in the predominantly Sunni province of Anbar issued arrest warrants for at least six Iraqis who they said were involved in the conference, although a warrant was subsequently withdrawn. Other participants were dismissed from their government posts.
At several checkpoints between Baghdad and Anbar province, militia fighters erected huge banners with the faces of those subject to the arrest warrants, declaring them guilty of treason.
The main conference speaker, Sheikh Wissam al-Hardan, from Anbar, is now under Kurdish protection along with other threatened conference participants. But the Iraqi Kurdistan region, semi-autonomous from Baghdad, is also threatened.
The region, which broke away from Iraqi government control with US assistance three decades ago, has faced increasing attacks, including drone strikes, linked to Iranian-backed militias. due to a US military base in Erbil.
“We will soon be burning all the sites of the traitors with smart missiles and drones,” warned after the conference a group called the Guardians of the Blood Brigade, which claimed responsibility for the previous attacks in Erbil.
In his opening address to the conference, Sheikh Wissam described the expulsion of Iraqi Jews after the establishment of Israel in 1948 as a major tragedy and said Iraq should recognize Israel, like the United Arab Emirates and several other Arab countries did so last year. He warned against Iraq becoming like Lebanon, which he said was swallowed up entirely by a militia – a reference to Iran-backed Hezbollah.
After the speech, Sheikh Wissam, who was injured fighting ISIS, was removed from his post as the leader of the Sunni Awakening movement, a set of tribal forces that fought with the United States against Al Qaeda and then confronted ISIS. The sheikh said he was deceived by the conference organizers and did not write down the speech he gave.