Iraqi parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi is warning that Iran is much closer to attaining nuclear capability than most sources, including the International Atomic Energy Agency and the US State Department, believe. In fact, he predicts the Iranians could have a nuclear capability - and may announce that they have it - as soon as next month.
"We are receiving information which says Iran is so close to producing an atom bomb," Alusi said in an interview earlier this month, the latest in a series of interviews conducted since September. "All the international community, they don't realize how close [the Iranians] are to the goal... The Iranians will surprise us one day [soon] and say, 'We have it.'"
Alusi said he cannot reveal his sources of this information, because that would place in grave and imminent danger individuals within the Iranian "establishment" who risked their lives to share it with him.
"I am talking about Iranian insider information. Very clear, from inside Iran," he said. "There are people within Iran who want to be normal... They know this is a dangerous regime. You see how they treat their own people... Iran is terrorizing the world already. What will they do once they have the bomb and they are stronger?"
Asked whether his sources are members of the Iranian government, or Iranian nuclear scientists, Alusi said he could not be more specific, but that they are "people who are part of the system in Iran, but [who] do know how dangerous it will be if the fascists are in control. They are wanting a normal situation to live, and they know this might be their last chance."
Alusi's estimate, which is that Iran will have nuclear capability by January or February, "sounds a little soon... [but] it's not outside the realm of possibility," according to Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, who has consulted for the CIA and Defense Department.
According to Israeli intelligence, however, Iran already has sufficient low-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon but has yet to reach the breakout stage and begin enriching uranium to higher levels, needed for a nuclear weapon. Even once this happens, it would take the Iranians some time to perfect the weapons program and manufacture a warhead. This would likely take a few years - until 2014, according to Mossad chief Meir Dagan.
An ideological pioneer, Alusi has frequently been ahead of the curve. Iraqi-born and bred, he fled to Germany in 1977 after being sentenced to death by Saddam Hussein for circulating anti-Ba'athist flyers. Following Saddam's ouster, he returned to Iraq with his two sons to accept a leadership position in the Supreme National Commission of de-Ba'athification.
In September 2004, he traveled to Israel to attend a counterterrorism conference. He did so because, in his words, he believes "Israel is a modern state and an important part of the Middle East."
Then, in February 2005, terrorist insurgents murdered his two sons, Ayman, 30, and Gamal, 22, apparently as payback for Alusi's visiting the Jewish state - a taboo in Iraqi society. Minutes after the attack, he told reporters, "Even if these terrorists try to kill me again... peace with Israel is the only solution for Iraq. Peace with everybody, but no peace for the terrorists."
Refusing to be intimidated, Alusi continued to build his political party, the Iraqi Democratic Nation Party, which his sons had helped him establish. In December 2005, voters elected him to parliament as an independent.
In early September 2009, before Iran announced the existence of a previously unknown uranium enrichment plant near the city of Qom, Alusi told this reporter there were other major Iranian nuclear sites in addition to the four known to the international community. Now he says that in addition to the five currently known, there are even more Iranian nuclear sites.
In September, he also told this reporter that Iranian scientists were working feverishly to develop "[the] missiles and atom bomb program together." Soon afterward, Iran began testing short-and medium-range missiles, as well as the Shihab-3, a long-range missile that can reach Israel.
Earlier this month he said, "I believe the atom bomb will be declared... by January, February, with a nuclear bomb and missiles [to launch it]."
Alusi believes Teheran's announcement in late November that it intends to build 10 new uranium enrichment sites is a ploy designed to mislead the West into thinking Iran is farther away than it actually is from attaining nuclear capability.
Alusi said that the Iranian government cannot be appeased by compromise or concession. He believes they are determined to assert their hegemony; hence their brazen missile-testing.
Asked whether he thinks a military operation to set back Iran's nuclear program will prompt a surge in terrorism, Alusi argued this reasoning is flawed. "The opposite is correct," he said. "If Iran has [nuclear capability], there will be more terror attacks... If [after it attains nuclear capability] there is any clash, hundreds of thousands will die, at least."
He emphasized that admittedly painful sacrifice in the short-term will avert a catastrophic scenario in the long-term.
"We will pay a price [with a limited military operation to set back Iran's nuclear program], but nothing compared to the price if Iran has this kind of weapon and â€¦ all the international community will be in danger."
While the Iranian government is belligerent, those at the helm of its war machine are clear in their motives, which include the determined desire to become a superpower, according to Alusi. "They have goals. They want DC to accept them as a superpower. You don't know them. We do," he said.
Although he says he is generally averse to war, he believes a military operation is the only option now, the sooner the better. For every month that elapses, the human and environmental costs of undertaking such an operation will be greater, Alusi cautioned.
"Why do international leaders wait?" he said. "To act now is best to save [the most] human beings. In several months, the danger of radioactivity to human beings and nature will be far worse."
Among the developments Alusi foresees if Iran attains nuclear capability are an immediate wave of international terrorism, unstable markets and economic chaos, and the ascendancy of Muslim fundamentalist governments and terrorist movements in the long-term.
Regarding the principle of mutually assured destruction serving as a deterrent against the use of a nuclear capability, Alusi warned, "There is no guarantee they will not use it. Maybe you can have a balance [that deters parties from using nuclear weapons] with China, with India, with some others, but you cannot have a balance with Iran. They might not use it right away but they might use it at a different time. And they will always use it as a threat.
"President Obama wants to talk â€¦ All of us need to talk and contain the problem. But we can't talk and contain the problem if Iran will have an atom bomb."
Asked if he thinks Israel should attempt a military operation alone, he said, "I think it is an international responsibility... the US, Israel, Iraq and NATO should stop the program, attack the 4 or 5 main centers... I think a military strike is the only hope now."
One of the main obstacles to effective negotiations, he maintained, is that the power centers in Iran are not accessible or interested in negotiating. "[At this point], no [individual] Iranian can stop it, not even [President] Ahmadinejad can," he said. "If they give the order [to stop the nuclear program,] they will be killed... The Revolutionary Guard are driving security."
Alusi believes that recent events such as Iran's missile testing and its announcement of its secret nuclear facility at Qom may have demonstrated to President Barack Obama that the Iranian government cannot be stopped via diplomacy. "[But] I don't believe the president will [organize a military operation] unless he sees there is no time," said Alusi. "We have to tell him there is no time. Then I believe he will act. Otherwise the Obama vision and the vision of others who look forward to freedom and peace will be a joke and a tragedy. The responsibilities are huge."
He went on: "Because I don't like war I think we need a limited, clear military operation, which everybody in the Middle East and Europe will understand, even if they don't support it. If it succeeds, everyone will support it."
The writer is an independent journalist who has contributed to The Wall Street Journal.