As news of the conference spread, the Iraqi government and authorities in overwhelmingly Sunni Anbar Province issued arrest warrants for at least six Iraqis they said were involved in the conference, though one warrant was later withdrawn. Other attendees were dismissed from their government jobs.
At several checkpoints between Baghdad and Anbar province, militia fighters erected huge banners with the faces of those on the arrest warrants, declaring them guilty of treason.
The main speaker at the conference, Sheikh Wissam al-Hardan, from Anbar, is now under Kurdish protection along with other conference attendees facing threats. But the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which is semiautonomous from Baghdad, is also under threat.
The region, which broke away from Iraqi government control with U.S. help three decades ago, has faced increasing attacks, including drone strikes, linked to Iranian-backed militias because of a U.S. military base in Erbil.
“We will not delay in burning all the traitors’ locations with smart missiles and drones,” a group called Guardians of the Blood Brigade, which has claimed responsibility for previous attacks in Erbil, warned after the conference.
In his keynote speech to the conference, Sheikh Wissam described the expulsion of Iraqi Jews after the creation of Israel in 1948 as a major tragedy and said Iraq should recognize Israel, as the United Arab Emirates and several other Arab countries did last year. He warned against Iraq becoming like Lebanon, which he said had been swallowed whole by a militia — a reference to Hezbollah, backed by Iran.
After the speech, Sheikh Wissam, who was wounded fighting ISIS, was dismissed from the leadership of the Sunni Awakening movement, a collection of tribal forces that fought with the United States against Al Qaeda and later took on ISIS The sheikh said he was deceived by the conference organizers and did not write the speech that he gave.