January 28, 2005
Profile of an Iraqi Politician
James J. Na
"I would like to thank the United States
for liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein's terror,"
said the quiet man on the podium. There was a momentary,
almost stunned silence, which was quickly followed by a
raucous cheer from the audience. The place was Herzliya,
Israel -- yes, Israel -- and the speaker was Mithal al-Alusi,
then the director general of the Supreme National Commission
for De-Baathification in Iraq.
Last September, I attended a conference
on counter-terrorism in Herzliya, which drew security experts,
military and law enforcement officers, policymakers and
researchers from around the world. Al-Alusi's participation
-- in an event taking place in Israel -- was not much heralded
before the conference. He seemingly slipped into the proceedings,
made a plainspoken declaration devoid of any bluster and
then discussed the prospect of stability in Iraq.
Al-Alusi's words and action were both daring
and significant. Here was an official from the "new"
Iraq who publicly thanked the United States for liberation
and dared to visit Israel openly. I excitedly called my
wife back in the United States, hoping that she caught press
coverage of this development.
There was not much coverage in the Western
media. In fact, I had to do some digging to find an odd
article or two about it later.
My wife's reaction at the time, characteristic
of her practicality, was "Does he have any family?"
Indeed, as the news reached Iraq, al-Alusi's
family had to flee from home under terrorist death threats.
He was expelled from his political party (he had been a
spokesman for Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress at
one time) and was stripped of his government position and
security protection, ostensibly for violating Iraq's old
Baathist injunction against visiting Israel. An arrest warrant
soon followed. He was quietly told to leave the country
or face being jailed together with Baathist murderers, meaning
a certain death.
Al-Alusi was previously exiled for 27 years
for working against Saddam's tyranny, so he was not about
to leave the country again precisely when it finally had
a chance for freedom. He returned to Iraq, vowing not to
be cowed by terrorists. Eventually, the Iraqi interim government
realized the ridiculousness of the charge and quietly dropped
the indictment. Still al-Alusi has remained under the terrorist
gun since and has survived repeated attempts on his life,
the last a grenade attack on his house just this month.
Al-Alusi was born in 1953 to an Arab Sunni
family of educators in al-Anbar province of Iraq. These
days, like many other Iraqis interested in having a say
in shaping the nation, he is busy organizing and running
a political party. The platform of his new party, the Democratic
Party of Iraqi Nation (www.dpin-iraq.org), is to institute
a stable government based on "a liberal constitution
and free economy," by which he means "no borders
for [technical] know-how and open doors for real investment,
for example, to build a modern Iraqi oil industry."
He considers a strategic alliance with the United States
indispensable for Iraq.
Al-Alusi also thinks that Iraq should normalize
its relationship with Israel. He told me recently "There
is a need to be far away from fanatical ideas, and it's
time for Iraq to have politics based on reality." He
went on, "The reality is that Israel is a fact, and
I cannot accept Iraqi politics based on Palestinian or Syrian
interests." Al-Alusi elaborates that Iraq and Israel
share common strategic interests and should cooperate on
economic and technical issues.
He is openly critical of some countries.
He laments, "When Saddam was inflicting terror on the
Iraqi people, no Arab or Islamic country supported the Iraqi
people against Saddam. The reality was that these countries
supported Saddam against the Iraqi people. France, Germany
and Russia did the same."
In comparison, he says, "I saw in Israel
that 30 percent of Israeli citizens were of Arab origin,
and that they had more rights than other Arabs in their
own countries." With Iran looming on Iraq's eastern
border, he thinks a relationship with Israel can serve as
a strategic balance to "keep our new Iraq safe."
He explains, "We cannot live in 2005 and still think
like in 1005. The strategic relationships [with the United
States and Israel] can be a pole to protect human rights,
democracy and peace."
As Iraqis get ready to vote in a free election
for the first time in at least fifty years, al-Alusi's party
is fielding a modest slate of 24 candidates. He does not
expect miracles this Sunday. He says, "We started the
DPIN in 3 months, with no financial or government support.
The only thing we have is our vision. That means even if
we win only one seat, it will be a great event."
Even as Western media attention is fixated
on terrorist attacks -- real voter intimidations and disenfranchisements,
not the imaginary kind we often hear about in the US media
-- and other negative news, there are new Iraqi politicians
like al-Alusi who are working quietly but energetically
to translate their ideals into practice.
I lived through the tumultuous democratization
of South Korea from a military dictatorship, so I like to
think that I know something of the price of democracy firsthand.
Yet, I believe that the upcoming Iraqi election will be
perhaps the greatest example of a burgeoning democracy I
will have witnessed.
There will be, without doubt, more violence
and other difficulties ahead on the road to this noble achievement
in Iraq. Al-Alusi's son, Gamal, puts it best when he states,
"It is true that we are in danger, but if this is the
price for democracy and peace, it is a very low price."
J. Na is a senior fellow in foreign policy at Discovery
Institute in Seattle and runs the "Guns
and Butter Blog. "
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