In 2004, Mithal al-Alousi visited Israel in the first public visit by an Iraqi politician to the Jewish state. In response, the Iraqi National Congress party (NCP), led by Ahmad Chalabi, dismissed al-Alousi, the
In 2005, an assassination attempt on al-Alousi’s life resulted in the death of his two sons. Asaad al-Hashemi, a former Minister of Culture in Nouri al-Maliki’s government, was found guilty and sentenced to death in absentia for colluding in the attack.
Recently, al-Alousi made a second trip to Israel prompting the Iraqi parliament to lift his parliamentary immunity and banning him from further travel.
Niqash met with al-Alousi to discuss the visit, the political situation in Iraq and al-Hashemi’s death sentence.
Niqash: Your first visit to Israel in 2004 led to many assassination attempts on your life including one which killed your two sons. Your recent visit to Israel has again created confusion and led to the lifting of your parliamentary immunity. Do you regret your repeated visits?
Al-Alousi: I do not regret them at all. I participated in the international conference on counter-terrorism in Israel for the first time in 2004 and my sons, as everyone remembers, were killed. At that time, I was not a member of parliament, hence no action was taken. Before the 2005 elections, all doors of politics were open. I was outspoken in all forums and was well-welcomed. They used to say that I represented the national, non-sectarian, secular and liberal thought. Things ran smoothly with the different forces; we work in politics, we disagree and compete on political grounds.
But this time, things went beyond all limits because I said that Iran is Iraq’s misfortune providing many examples of the country’s influence in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, and the Syrian regime, which all represent Iran, as well as some members of Iraq’s al-Qaeda who are supported by Iran. My information is accurate and I am responsible for what I say.
If they are against my recent visit, why didn’t they contest the 2004 visit, when Iraq was suffering from terrorism? Not one politician or government official has told me that there shouldn’t be any participation in such international conferences. I exchanged visits and discussed many issues with officials and no one said that I had committed a mistake. These are international conferences attended by many powerful countries, research centers, observers, critics as well as journalists, and not just Israeli conferences. What I did was not a secret.
Niqash: Did you not think a visit to Israel, classified as an enemy state, would lead to a hostile reaction?
Al-Alousi: There were reactions, but I wonder why I shouldn’t go to Israel. Abu Mazen, the Palestinian Prime Minister is negotiating with the Israelis. It is only the Palestinians who have the right to object to my visit. The world today gives attention to human beings, institutions and infrastructure, it prides itself on the number of university graduates, it fights unemployment, it builds health institutions, and focuses on economic growth. It is not much concerned in a topic such as a visit to Israel or any other country.
Niqash: There are some who say that there are similar conferences held in other countries, why doesn’t Mithal al-Alousi attend them?
Al-Alousi: Who said I did not go to such conferences? I have participated in many of them in Britain, Prague, Washington, Italy, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Baghdad, and I'm ready to go to any conference that benefits Iraq. But I do not go to reconciliation conferences held in Tokyo, Denmark or Helsinki; I consider them funny. If we want to reach agreements or really enter into dialogue, we need to do this in Iraq. But when the world discusses Iraq’s issues, I will not stand still. As a free politician, it is my right to say what I think. Even during the last conference I was not invited to represent Iraq, the Sunnis, the Shiites, or the Kurds. I said: “I am a free politician, a party member and a parliamentarian. I represent myself and I have the right to defend my country everywhere.”
Niqash: It is said that you raised the idea of establishing a strategic alliance between Iraq, Turkey, the United States, Israel and Kuwait during the conference. Is this true? If so, what are your reasons?
Al-Alousi: Yes, I demanded so because Iran has gobbled up Iraq and it is still expanding it influence. I believe that Ahmadinejad will lead Iran to a catastrophe similar to that of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and that he will lead the Arabian Gulf region into war. In order to avoid the outbreak of war and to avoid becoming prisoners of it, I demanded the creation of a strategic alliance to bring about a state of balance in the region. The present balance is uneven in favor of Iran. Therefore, things are clear to me; when we go to a place, we say what we believe in a loud voice. A political position is not something personal. We shouldn’t start any endeavor without informing the Iraqi people. We do not resort to confidentiality to preserve the trust of Iraqi voters.
Niqash: The problem in your visit lies in the fact that Iraq has no ties with Israel…
Al-Alousi: Iraq has no ties not only with Israel but also with Iran, legally speaking, as we are still in a state of cease-fire; that is, we are still officially at war with Iran. However, I believe that Iraqis have the right to travel to any country they want, to represent themselves and their people and to make themselves loudly heard.
Niqash: There was almost complete parliamentary consensus on lifting your immunity. Doesn’t this mean something to you? What will be your next step?
Al-Alousi: The consensus is clear and it is guided by Iran. Parliament has been transformed from a regulatory and legislative authority into a government, judiciary and a court place. It quickly wanted, in a kangaroo court, to issue its resolution lifting immunity. I will appeal to the Iraqi Federal Court to have the resolution dropped because it is illegal, unconstitutional and a political resolution.
Niqash: You are not allowed to travel now?
Al-Alousi: Yes, but they are neither the Ministry of the Interior nor the court to stop me from travelling. They have assumed the role of police, judge and investigator and even that of public prosecutor. I sincerely congratulate Iran for controlling them. Not all members of parliament are similar. Some are scared and there is a clear policy of assassinations. We receive letters threatening us with death every day. The government has even refused to pay the salaries of my personal guards. This means: leave Mithal al-Alousi without any guards.
Niqash: Is your life threatened as a result of the visit?
Al-Alousi: The visit is not the reason. It is because I declared my free opinion saying that Iran is the cause of all disasters and that it even dominates the Hawza [seminary of Shi'a Islamic studies]. This was proved when [Staffan] de Mistura, the UN Secretary-General representative, met with Ali Sistani, but then went to Iran because the religious authority is now in Iran. This is proof that Iran is attempting to take over the role of Sistani, the Hawza and Najaf. They want everything to be Iranian.
Niqash: You have said that other “turbaned” officials made secret visits to Israel. Who are these officials? Is Iyad Allawi – as you have been quoted as saying - among them?
Al-Alousi: Iyad Allawi did not visit Israel; it was officials from the different blocs and provinces who visited Israel.
Niqash: What about your political future? How will this affect you in the forthcoming elections?
Al-Alousi: I shall participate in the elections with the same weight and capacity to undertake the responsibility. I will not let voters down and I am confident of good results. The 2005 elections, with 300 lists competing, were ugly sectarian-based elections and they made fun of the people.
Niqash: Are you optimistic regarding the future and your return to parliament?
Al-Alousi: I am extremely optimistic; we are doing our part. It is an internal Iraqi battle to stress our Iraqi identity. We oppose those who say there is no such identity. Regarding my return, I believe that the real parliament is the Iraqi street. I invite all those who loudly opposed my visit to go the streets and cafes of Baghdad and drink tea there as I usually do. I will not leave Iraq, neither will I leave my home and I will continue to think in a loud voice.
Niqash: Do you have any information about al-Hashemi’s whereabouts?
Al-Alousi: Yes, he is the Damascus countryside. There were some attempts to resolve the case in a tribal manner by paying blood-money but I refused their offer. It is not a personal issue. The fugitive minister represents the Ahl al-Iraq Group and has been involved in more than 400 murders. Forty seven arrest warrants have been issued for him.