Tips, questions, and suggestions
Sign up for emails
Interview: Mithal al-Alusi
The man of the hour, as an Iraqi court throws out penalties for trip to Isreal
By DANIEL W. SMITH 11/24/2008 6:55 PM ET
Mithal al-Alusi  Photo: Daniel W. Smith
Mithal al-Alusi Photo: Daniel W. Smith

Iraqslogger continues its series of in-depth interviews with people of note in the Iraqi scene. In the interest of better understanding, we try to give a bit more time than is allotted for most interviews, and not keep the topic to one newsworthy event or comment.
Today, controversial and popular parliament member Mithal al-Alusi speaks about the reasons for his trip to Israel, his party, the security agreement, and Iran. Particularly harsh words are reserved for Iraq's Islamic parties.

In person, Mithal al-Alusi comes across as thoughtful and articluate. When he gets talking, he has a sharp tongue, but seems naturally quiet, unassuming, and even sad. He has gained respect from a broad range of the population for his reputation of fearlessly doing and saying as he believes, regardless of the repercussions. He is the sole representative in parliament of the independent Iraqi al-Umma Party, also known as the Mithal al-Alusi List. Several members of the party are planning to run in Iraq’s upcoming provincial elections.

In 2005, his two sons, Ayman and Ghamal were shot to death in his presence, with responsibility being claimed by the Islamic insurgent group Ansar al-Sunna and remnants of the Baath party. Others were implicated as well.

On September 14th, the Iraqi parliament voted in favor of stripping parliamentary immunity from al-Alusi for traveling to Israel for a conference on counterterrorism.
He was taken off his post as director general in Iraq's De-Baathification Commission, and some called for his imprisonment or even death. Just today, Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court ruled to officially reject the parliament’s decision, a strong vindication for Mr. al-Alusi.

He spoke to Iraqslogger in his home, adorned with Iraqi art. He began by explaining his reasons for making the trip to Israel in the first place.

Well, from the beginning, we know, my colleagues and I, that we will face problems. It’s always the case, when you break with what is normal, you have to face problems, and to accept it. That was totally normal.

Some of the Iraqis were saying “Some of the problems you will face will not be under control”. It is not true. So, really, I do enjoy it, now, that there is a public case. Iraqis give their own opinion regarding my activities and my ways. I’m so happy with it. That is one of our goals – not just to stay a politician, but now we have a very clear public case.

It is really true, the statistic that the party has lost some general support in some provinces by this, but if you go to many polls, if you go to Sotal Iraq for example -they start from I think September 15th until now - 76 percent, they say, “We are with Mithal al-Allusi’s trip to Israel.” There are others, too, Iraq and major Arab web sites, so I’m so happy with the result.

But the two main questions are: Why did they do it? On September 14th, why did they take my immunity? The other question is: Why have I done it? Why did I visit Israel?

On this question, I have done it because of Iraqi interests. This is the way to build a real state. I have done it because we need to do this in a pragmatic way, in the realpolitik. Not with fantasy and dreaming, and such kind of policy where people want to go back in history to build the country. We want to go in the future to build the country, from the reality. I have done it because I believe in the economy, I believe in the human being. I believe they have the right to exist. Iraqis mostly don’t know much about Israel, really. They know old stories, because we had very many Iraqi Jewish, and in general, they left to Israel. So, we have now in Israel, more than 400,000 Iraqis. Israelis of Iraqi origin. I can not forget them, I will not forget them. We have the right to talk to them as Iraqis. This is one point.

The second point: As I said, people here do not know that much about Israel. They know what they did hear from Nasser, Saddam, Arafat, and Khomeini. These are the major four sources for knowledge of Israelis. I’m not a lawyer for the Israeli government. I might have more problem with Israeli politics than others, but we have to talk. We have to find a way, we have to be real, not to go in a fantasy way. So the best way is to have peace in the Middle East and to contain the problem of the terrorist actions, everywhere. We have to talk, and we have to find a dialogue, and then we can listen. I am totally sure that our society can be saved. And when I say “our society”, I mean the Middle East.

If you go to Israel, you will find many checkpoints, because they are afraid of the terrorists. If you go to the malls and the markets, the same case. If you go to Iraq, you will have the same case. And if you go to the Iraqi intelligence, from where, generally, we have the terrorist actions, they will say al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and other groups from Lebanon, The people like Zarkawi from Jordan, Iranian support, etcetera. It is the same, really. The same problems we have here. So, I really believe that no country can deal with the terrorists alone.

And I really do believe that the terrorist era has just started. I do really mean it, it has just started. This means we are going to face these terrorist problems like this for maybe another 100 years. This is reality.

So now, how to face the terrorists? Through just wishes? Or, through Islamic du’a, to God? No. In reality, we need each other to be sure that our society will have safety. Terrorists, international terrorists, they can only exist from communication systems and financing systems. If we’re going to have control over the terrorists’ financial and the communication systems, then we will be able to face them, and to have control.

We have regimes in the Middle East, that are part of a terrorist complex. It doesn’t mean just a few crazy people and criminals that kill people. That was the case a few decades ago, but the case now is really a very complicated issue. Now, they have intelligence behind them, they have big friends and resources, and they have regimes, like Syria and Iran. Not just financial systems, but they have support in know-how, technology, and even media. So now, I have been forced to look for alliance, to look for partnership, to look for a mechanism of connection to deal with this non-stability situation. We need America in the game, not just because we need them for the economy. For security, they can’t do everything they need without us, Israel can’t do everything without us, and we can’t do everything without both of them. We need a partnership, and then we will be able to stop the financing and the communications of these groups. Anyone who says something else is dreaming, and I do not like to dream at the cost of my nation. We have a chance to save Iraqis, and to build the country again.

What were the legal arguments that you faced?

The Iraqi Parliament legal committee, they sent me a letter, along with the Iraqi Supreme Court, that taking my immunity for this was illegal. This was the first surprise. The second one was the passport agency had been asked about my visit, and they said “No, there is no limit. Iraqis, they can travel wherever they want.”

So there was no legal problem, but even if there was a legal problem, I will go. They told me in the beginning, “Just apologize, and we will close the file.” the speaker of the Iraqi parliament was saying directly, “Just say, ‘I apologize’, and we will close the file now.” And I was saying, “Why should I apologize? I will never apologize, and I will do it again, and again, because I believe that this is in the Iraqi interest.”

After this, many MPs and ministers, they came to this house and they say “Sorry, we have done something bad. We apologize.”

Iraqis are suffering very much, because of the new fascists in the area, the Islamic fascists, in Iraq and outside Iraq. I am willing to face them, we will face them, we will build this country. Iraqis, they are free, they have to be free, they will be free - and no power in the region can stop us from doing it. Point, end of story. I do really mean it.

You and your family have felt some very hard effects of the violence. How has the death of your sons effected how you approach dealing with the violence within Iraq?

As I started in politics, I didn’t start it to play games. I didn’t start it to play games or to have money. I have enough money – ten times, one hundred times as a businessman what I get as a politician. As an Iraqi politician, there is a responsibility. My dream is to build my country to be safe, and to be normal – just to be normal. For that, I have lost my only two sons. It is, of course, very hard. But now, my dream is more than that.

I would have loved them to have seen children that can play in the street, safe and happy, and when we are not stealing their age. There are some issues where you have to be very careful. Children, they have the right to be children. Teenagers, they have a right to be as a teenager. Young people, they have a right to dream, and be active, and establish families. All people have a right to live in peace. This is what I call normal, and we are working very hard to make it this way.

The Islamic parties have to understand, they are nothing. They have no real power without a weapon. If the majority is behind them, why do they have to use the name of God, and the Imam, and the Kalashnikov? The real Iraqi rubbish is the Islamic parties. They have to understand that democracy doesn’t mean a jungle where everyone can play his game. They are the corruption in Iraq, they are the killers in Iraq, they are the non-Iraqi in Iraq, and we are not going to give the country up because they can kill us. We can stop them, and we will stop them.

Tell us about the current state of the al-Umma Party.

I must say that I am so proud of my people. We started just in 2004. Really, we started from nothing. We are strong only from our vision, that we believe in it. We started very poor, for a political party, and had nothing. Now, we are talking about representatives in 13 different Iraqi provinces. Now, we are talking about more than 12,000 members in this party. Now, we are talking about financing our own party, not through stealing or corruption or from the Iranian agents, or from Iranian intelligence, or from Saudi intelligence. I am so proud, because we are the only Iraqi party that we take our resources from our own members. We believe in them. We don’t have our families outside of Iraq. We don’t have our houses and villas outside of Iraq. We are here, and the others, they have to understand, if they are not here, then they should go back to those countries that they belong to.

How would you define the party? Many in the English-speaking world, even with some considerable knowledge of Iraq, are at a loss for what all the parties stand for. How would you characterize al-Umma?

We are a real Iraqi party – secular liberals. We believe in Iraq, but we are not naïve, we do understand that we are in a war. We do not use weapons, we face the rubbish with our very strong message. There is no deal, when it comes to Iraq interests.

You said that the party does not take money from outside countries, and the examples you gave were Iran and Saudi Arabia. That others have, is something you’ve been quite outspoken about, about Iran’s influence in Iraq, particularly. Can you give us your views on the scope of foreign influence within Iraq?

Iran, really is very big in Iraq now, but they are not strong. We have to make a difference between big and strong. If we have the cooperation of the Iraqi government, you will see how easy the game will be. We know the agents, if they are politicians or not. We know the corruption, if they are part of the parties or not. We know the killers, we know their names, the addresses, we know how they do it. They are Iraqis and Iranians. We need a political willingness to do something about it in the Iraqi government, and it will be a very easy game. I mean it, I promise.

I have not heard that from anyone else.

They are nothing. The only power they have got now, is that nobody is trying to stop them. This is the point, they have a free area, a very free space to play. Nobody is trying to face them. They are scared, or they are being paid by Iran.

Then, how do you get to the point where things can change?

Iran is investing, but Iraq has been around in some form for thousands of years. Three, four, five years of total destruction, a hundred thousand car bombs, and the society is still here. It is criminal to say the Shi’a are part of Iran, as it is criminal to say that Sunni is part of Saudi Arabia. No, the Iraqi Shi’a and Sunni are Iraqis. in this country, there is a very strong society. What do they need? They need normalcy to give themselves a chance to exist.

From the beginning, through our talk to American and Iraqi politicians, I was saying that Iran is playing for time. There is a very clear Iranian goal. One part of this is a nuclear program. Now, without the nuclear bomb, they make a huge damage in the region. What will be the case, if they have the nuclear bomb? Then, we will have the real war. I don’t believe in war, but to have peace, we have to solve the problem of the Iranian nuclear program.

All of us, we think that Pakistan needed eight years. They surprised us, and they did it in two years. Iran, it will have an atom bomb, and so we have to stop the program. This can not come from mediation. We have to attack the Iranian nuclear program, immediately. This has to be done militarily, but not as a war. It has to be an operation, to stop the mechanism of starting war in Iran. this is also that the Iranian people themselves will be safe. This regime, it does not care about their own people. This is an international responsibility.

Can you give us your view on the U.S. security agreement, as it stands now?

Everybody knows we need some cooperation with the Americans. The democratic values that we are working for are not American values, but human values, so we are doing it ourselves. We have needed America for our security, and we still do now, but Iraqi forces are getting to the point where they should have more control of the operations.

America is a partner, for both of our interests. They fought for our us before, now we are fighting for their interests, here in Iraq, so the game has to be fair. Partnership with Americans is important, but nothing less than real partnership. The text now is better than many other international agreements, so we must go with it. The security agreement will pass, and the rest is just the game of the politicians.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Our candidates have had many threats lately, for participating in the provincial elections that will happen. The Islamic parties, with help from Iran and others, have told our candidates in Diwaniya and Najaf, and Basra – they have told them, face-to-face, that “If you run in the party of the Mithal list, you will be killed. I am so afraid of my people, but they will never stop. This is why, in the last hours, our support has gone up. We will never give up, and everybody has to know that.

Thank you, Mr. al-Alusi.

Of course. Thank you.


Wounded Warrior Project