mithal alusi 88 298.
(photo credit: AP)
Mithal al-Alusi, perched on the edge of his hotel bed and pausing between puffs of an omnipresent cigarette, considers what he would like to tell Israelis through the medium of The Jerusalem Post. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's special envoy to Washington settles on a message of peace.
Many Israeli leaders, he says, already believe in peace, but that is not enough: "We have to work for it. It is really time to work for security for our children and grandchildren and [it's] time to say, we are not willing to give up against the terrorists and the fascists."
These are not idle words or platitudes. Indeed, Alusi has done his fair share of working towards peace, particularly with Israel, as it is. Alusi made a seminal trip to Israel in September 2004 to participate in a counterterrorism conference. Apparently as payback, extremists murdered his two sons, 22 and 30. But that hasn't stopped him.
The terrorists "will try to kill more. They will try to stop us. It should give us power to continue, to believe in ourselves," says the 53-year-old, who was given the American Jewish Committee's Moral Courage award following his sons' deaths.
His soft-spoken and polite demeanor - he sits on the bed so that the two women in the room can use the hotel chairs - masks his hard determination and unyielding view when it comes to those who would tear Iraq apart and impose religious fanaticism, "fascists" in his terminology.
Alusi continues to believe in and work for a democratic Iraq despite a stint in jail under the Ba'athist regime, several assassination attempts and, of course, the loss experienced by his family. He even ran for office as the head of his own party - the avowedly secular and liberal Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation - and won.
Has your own tragic experience affected how you view reaching out to Israel and the possibilities of coexistence between it and Iraq?
When people have interviews with me, they always think about the great loss, and I am so thankful for the sympathy. [But] this is not the point, how much I lost or how much I didn't lose. The point is: Are we on the right path or are we not? We are on the right path, even if we are going to pay more. [The terrorists] will try to kill more. They will try to stop us. It should give us power to continue, to believe in ourselves. The terrorists don't want just killing, they want to take our will out of our control, and they will never achieve that.
What did you think of your trip to Israel?
Before I went to Israel I stopped and [considered]. I was really three, four days sitting alone and thinking about it: What shall I do, shall I do it?
Yes, or no. I was thinking to myself, I know how dangerous the trip will be.
I know the reaction and what this means, breaking taboos. I know that. But I know also that it is correct to do, it is right to do it - and I have done it. And I am so proud.
I have many friends there, whom I can really say are friends of mine. I didn't talk to the Israeli government because I didn't get authority to talk in this direction, but I thought one day Iraqi politicians and Israeli politicians must meet. And they have done it. The Iraqi prime minister and the Israeli foreign minister met in New York just a few days after my trip to Israel. This is the way to find a solution for the problems - dialogue, talk, understanding. This is the only way.
So you don't regret it?
What I have done is something that I believe in. And I know now I am on the right way, [especially] after many thousands from Iraq gave me their trust to be their representative in the Iraqi government.
I should be proud. I am proud of my people, I am proud of my trip. I am proud of my friendships.
And why did you make this trip now, to Washington?
We feel that we are so close to the democratic countries. It might be very easy to feel from the geography that we are very close to our neighbors, of course, but the reality of our world is totally different. Now, Iraq belongs to the democratic nations, and this is something which gives us the interest and also the responsibility to ask for friends outside of Iraq in democratic counties.
Of course, our relationship with the United States is very deep, and for sure this relationship started after President [George W.] Bush and America gave us the help to liberate our country from the fascist regime of Saddam Hussein.
That's why I came to D.C. and that's why also many Iraqi politicians are looking to establish friendships, partnerships, to find our interests in D.C.
In Washington now, people are debating President Bush's decision to send more soldiers to Iraq. Do you agree that more American troops are needed?
Yes. I believe this is a very correct and very wise position. It shows that President Bush is a strong man and he won't [leave] American decisions in the hands of the Iranians or terrorists. He's very clear in his direction. We like that, we welcome that and we are very thankful for that.
What do you think about the debate that's going on in America about the war and how America has handled it?
This is American political life. I would be really afraid if nobody in America said anything or had criticisms. I like it, to be honest with you, even if there are some democratic positions we don't understand or it's not in our interest. But generally, this is the democratic system and that's what we want from our partner.
What do you think about Americans who say the US military shouldn't be in Iraq and that the war was a mistake?
It is nothing new in American history. They said it also when American troops were in Japan and Southeast Asia. They said it when American troops were in Germany. This is life in a democracy. It isn't just a one-sided system. It is really painful. America has lost more than 3,000 soldiers. We have lost more than 300,000. Still, this is our country and [it's] right when we fight against the terrorists and [it's] right when we fight against the fascists.
The question is, if we don't have support from the United States or the other nations, what will happen? There will be chaos in the Middle East. I really believe what the terrorists are saying. They want to fight against America. They want to hit America, to reach America. They have done it on September 11, they have done it many times in Europe and they will try it again. So we in Iraq, in the Middle East, are the real border between those fascists, those terrorists and the democratic community. We have a very serious responsibility. Bush and his people are also taking their responsibility very seriously, and I wish that one day we will see a new French or German position far from their opportunistic one.
Some people in America say you can't have a stable, peaceful democracy in Iraq.
If it's possible to have a democratic system in Germany - and we know how complex the Germans are, or they were - why shouldn't it be possible to have one in Iraq? In our first election, 70 percent of Iraqi citizens voted.
This is a very high percentage for any democratic country, even for here in America. It's true that we might not have had a democratic education, but the people know they have to vote, and now they know that through elections and voting they can make a change - and this is a high-level democratic education.
Is it demoralizing when you hear American say their troops shouldn't be there and that you can't have democracy in Iraq?
No, we understand it. [But] John Kerry used the Iraqi issue just for his election campaign, just to be president. I think that's the reason why he lost his leadership position in the Democratic Party. Even the Democratic Party has a very clear position. Nobody's talking about leaving or giving up in Iraq.
They might have another strategy or a different tactic, but in reality we're not hearing about a total change. So we are very confident that America is on the right path, to help us.
By the way, three years into Iraq, there is a reform wave in the Middle East. In Kuwait, women have the right now to vote and be nominated. Bahrain has elections, the United Arab Emirates has elections. Saudi Arabia, the very classic system which has existed for 1,000 years, understands it must make reforms. There are many Syrians who are building human rights organizations - okay, they will be punished, they will be put in jail, they will be killed. But look at the power of the reforms and the will in the area - all of that just because of the Iraqi process. Without it, that never would have been done there. Even in Iran, university students are saying no to [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. [We have] to help reformers in Iran to stop Ahmadinejad from his fanatic way.
Some people say that Iraq is actually a more natural partner with Iran than the United States, and they're very concerned about an alliance between Iraq and Iran.
Throughout history, Iran and Iraq never were together. I wish one day we will have a normal relationship, but I know we can never have it with Ahmadinejad or the Islamic fascists controlling Iran.
What should Bush and the American government be doing about the threat of Iran?
It's not just the responsibility of Bush and his government. It's the responsibility of the international community. They must understand that they can't push America around.
If Iran has the power, if the Islamic fascists have the ideology and they're working through their ideology, there's no hope for peace, there's no hope for normality and no American interest can be safe in this area.
Should the international community be imposing more sanctions?
[Sanctions] can't help the Iranians. They're not that painful, so they can't stop them. The goal is to bring them to normality, and sanctions will never reach this goal. That's why we should look for other alternatives and other mechanisms.
Like military action?
A clear leadership always has all of the options open to save life and to save the free way of thinking.
What would happen to Iraq if there was a military attack on Iran?
We would have problems, for sure. But I'm ready to deal with this problem for weeks or months. I'm ready to deal with this problem rather than to have after one or two years an Iranian superpower taking all of the area hostage and driving us as slaves in its own interests.
Ahmadinejad is saying what he believes and he believes what he is saying, and he was never talking about peace and stability. He's always talking about war. It's fair to compare Ahmadinejad and the Iranian case with the German case in the '30s. Some countries didn't take Germany so seriously. They gave Germany the power to punish and to kill millions of people. This will be the case with the Iranian regime if we don't deal with it seriously.
Are the cases of Iran and Germany also similar because what Ahmadinejad said about Jews and Israel is similar to what Hitler said?
I will say the mechanism of Ahmadinejad - supporting terrorists, killing people and enjoying it, developing weapons, trying through weapons to control nations and control the economy and to dictate to us what we have to do - this is the real fascism. But of course, it brings the Jewish community very painful memories, and this is its right to think in this way.
Would you see it this way?
Nobody can feel your pain. I might have sympathy. I might try to feel it. But in reality, the only ones who can feel it are the Jews. They know exactly what was done to them. We know now in Iraq what really has been done to us. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed through car bombs and terrorist attacks. So that's why there is clearly a feeling in both nations, Iraq and Israel, that we are paying a very heavy price because of the fascists and the terrorists.
Is there, then, also a shared interest between Israel and Iraq in not seeing a nuclear Iran?
There are many politicians in Israel and in my country and in other countries in the Middle East. Either they are not clever enough to understand the real interest of their nations, or they have some complex, I don't know. That's why I really ask both countries' politicians to look for their clear interests and to forget the old books and problems. In reality, there is no Iraqi-Israeli problem. I think our interests are parallel, but we need powerful politicians to make a decision [for peace] in both countries.
Is there a shared interest beyond dealing with Iran?
There are hundreds of thousands of Israelis of Iraqi origin. The Iraqis know that, they remember that. They're still alive, they have friends, partners, etc. Jews [were] in Iraq for thousands of years. They were part of the arts and politics. Our first Iraqi finance minister was an Iraqi Jew. They were very active in politics, in art, in society, in trading, in the economy, and I think now's the time that we should look at that reality. Why should we fight each other? For what?