Mithal Al-Alusi is literally betting his life that Iraqis are ready for their country to open a positive relationship with Israel.In a phone interview from his party’s office in Baghdad, Alusi, 51, a former Iraqi government official who was indicted in October after attending a conference in Israel on charges of violating a 1969 law barring contacts with enemy states, said, “I believe in living in peace with Israel, a country with which Iraq has no conflict.“Iraq has no reason to be against Israel simply because Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians have disputes with Israel. They look out for their own interests and Iraq must do so also,” he said. “Right now we are paying for our hard-won freedom with our own lives and are getting nothing from the Arab and Islamic countries.”
Alusi advocates what he calls “strategic” relations with Israel rather than the kind of formal relations Israel has with Jordan and Egypt.“We should form a strategic relationship with Israel and the United States against terrorism,” he said. “Iran, in particular, is a danger to the entire region, including Israel and Iraq.”
Alusi caused a major commotion in September when he attended a conference in Herzliya sponsored by the private International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism. At the time he was a leading member of Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress and director-general of Iraq’s National Commission for De-Baathification, which worked to bar senior officials of Saddam Hussein’s government from office.His visit to Israel was believed to be the first by an Iraqi official. Alusi was quoted in the international media as saying that some Iraqi leaders were interested in opening diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
Alusi was disowned immediately by the INC and suspended from his position in the interim national legislature. He formed his own party, the Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation, and is campaigning in the legislative elections set for Sunday on a platform advocating a close strategic relationship between Iraq and Israel.Over the past several weeks, Alusi said his Baghdad home has been attacked twice with bombs, and he has moved his wife and son to a secure location.Alusi, a Sunni Muslim who lived more than 25 years in exile and spent a year in prison in Germany for leading a takeover of the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin in 2003, said of his pro-Israel stance, “I haven’t hidden this position but have spoken openly about it in public appearances. Will it be accepted? I don’t know. We will see in a few days if the people agree with me.”
He said his party, which advocates a separation of mosque and state, has about 6,000 members from Iraq’s major constituencies, including Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and Christians. Alusi said the party has been criticized by the major religious parties, Shia and Sunni.Meanwhile, he said, “Terrorists recently killed one of our main people and launched two bombing attacks on my private house, one of which caused huge damage to the first floor. Yet we will not be intimidated into changing our position. We are determined to stand up for human rights and Iraqi national interests.”
Given the difficulties he and his party face in campaigning and getting their message out, Alusi said, “It will be a victory if we win even one seat [in the new legislature].”Is spreading that message so vital that it is worth risking his life and those of his family members?
“I ask myself that question every day,” he said. “At this point it is not clear who will win, the terrorists or us. Yet those of us who are looking to create a new political reality have to take the risk to bring it about.”Alusi, an engineer by profession, fled Iraq in 1976 after he said security operatives of the Hussein government tried to kill him. He went to Egypt and then Syria, where he was jailed by the Baathist regime. He managed to escape across the border into Lebanon, then found his way to West Germany, where he joined Iraqi opposition groups.He returned to Iraq in September 2003 and thrived with his positions in the Iraqi National Congress and National Commission for De-Baathification. Alusi said he was given a “green light from many people in both the INC and government” to make his historic trip to the Herzliya conference on Sept. 10.
Alusi acknowledged that his decision to attend was “a big step for me.”
“I felt like a man leaping out into the darkness,” he said. “Yet what I found in Israel was friendship and understanding. I had the realization that all of us are human beings, Arab and Jew alike.”
Alusi found considerably less understanding back home in Baghdad. Following his visit to Israel, he delivered a detailed report to the offices of Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawner, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hoshyar Zebari; none offered a response. In early October, Iraq’s special criminal court established by the American occupation authority indicted Alusi and issued a warrant for his arrest.
“In reality, the story of my visit was a sensation for a few weeks, but then the moment passed,” Alusi said. “Before I made the trip, it was imossible to talk about peace with Israel. Now it is a normal part of the Iraqi dialogue.”