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Iraqi pays for supporting Israel

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Mithal Al-Alusi, founder of the Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation, addresses the American Jewish Committee in Washington on May 5. (Ron Sachs)

Mithal Al-Alusi, founder of the Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation, addresses the American Jewish Committee in Washington on May 5. (Ron Sachs)

NEW YORK, May 9 (JTA) — For daring to visit Israel, Mithal Al-Alusi has paid with more than his life: It cost him his two sons. A Sunni Moslem who founded the Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation, or DPIN, Al-Alusi believes the new Iraq should defy the longstanding policies of most Arab nations and normalize relations with Israel. Last September, while serving in the Iraqi interim government as director general of the national commission on de-Ba’athification, Al-Alusi visited Israel to attend the Herzliyah conference, an international policy forum that attracts scholars, politicians and Israel’s military and political elite. Al-Alusi hadn’t even left the conference when his family began receiving death threats from insurgents. Ultimately the insurgents murdered Al-Alusi’s sons, Ayman, 30, and Gamal, 22, who were assisting him in establishing his grassroots political party, which is forged on the principles of individual rights and cooperation with other democracies. Al-Alusi hasn’t given up, however. Last week he came to Washington to receive the American Jewish Committee’s Moral Courage award. Next week he will return to Iraq, where he continues to build his party, which has 7,000 members from across Iraq. “It is a great honor for me to be here on behalf of all Iraqis who are fighting against terrorism,” he said to thunderous applause and a standing ovation from nearly 1,000 people at the AJCommittee’s annual dinner. “No country can deal with terrorism alone,” he said. “We need an alliance of democratic countries, to make it clear to terrorists that there is no dealing with them. There is only one way — to respect peace and human rights.” The AJCommittee’s executive director, David Harris, praised Al-Alusi’s moral courage. “Tonight we are privileged to honor a man who has insisted Iraq refuse anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism,” Harris told the crowd. “A vast literature has been written about those who stand against strong currents within their societies. Rare indeed are men and women willing to speak out when the cost is fatal.” In an interview with JTA before accepting the award, Al-Alusi elaborated on his positions about Israel, Iraq’s future and the need for alliances among democracies. A dignified, soft-spoken man, Al-Alusi’s large, dark eyes reflect determination, strength and the pain of the losses he has sustained. He is proud to have visited the Jewish state, and believes Israel and Iraq have an increasing amount in common. Iraq is trying to forge a democratic system, and like Israel it faces continual threats from terrorists who disdain free thinking and individual rights. Both nations, he asserts, would benefit greatly from an alliance, particularly with regard to fighting terrorism. “I hope I am wrong, but I believe the terrorist era has just started,” Al-Alusi said. “Now is the time to build a strategic alliance against terrorism.” Specifically, he would like to see the United States, Iraq, Turkey, Israel and possibly Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates form an “Atlantic alliance” against terrorism. Al-Alusi believes cooperation with Turkey, the other democracy in the region, also would be to Iraq’s advantage economically. Ultimately, his dream is to “have Iraq part of the developed, democratic world, to build a new era.” That goal can be accomplished only through realpolitik, he maintains. For more than 50 years, he noted, Iraq was part of a bloc of Arab countries that were united in opposing Israel. “Many things were done that were not in the Iraqi people’s interests. But we have no reason to be against a very successful society” like Israel, he said. “Israel is a reality, it’s a modern state and an important part of the Mideast.” Al-Alusi is no stranger to controversy: A onetime member of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, he and his family were forced to flee Iraq 27 years ago, after he was sentenced to death for opposing Saddam’s human-rights abuses. The family lived in Hamburg, Germany, but longed to return to their country. In the aftermath of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, they did return. For Al-Alusi, it was the realization of his dream to participate in the shaping of a democratic Iraq. He accepted a position as director general of the Iraqi national commission on de-Ba’athification. As a member of the Iraqi National Congress, he was “second man” to the party’s chairman, Ahmed Chalabi. The commission’s goal was to transform a totalitarian society into one that embraces democracy. One of the reasons Al-Alusi was interested in visiting Israel, he said, was to consult with people who knew about the de-Nazification process in postwar Germany, which he felt could inform his efforts in Iraq. When he returned from Israel, however, the interim Iraqi government stripped him of his position and his security protection for violating a law, established under Hussein’s dictatorship, against visiting Israel. Al-Alusi was issued an arrest warrant and was told to leave the country or he would be jailed alongside former Ba’athists, a near-certain death sentence. Refusing to be intimidated and with the help of his sons, Al-Alusi founded the DPIN and got the party onto the ballot for Iraq’s January 2005 elections. Eventually the interim government dropped the charges against him. Shortly before the Iraqi election, Al-Alusi’s younger son, Gamal, was quoted as saying, “It is true we are in danger, but if this is the price for democracy and peace, it is a very low price.” In fact, the real price was higher. Within days of the election, a car carrying Gamal, Ayman and Mithal Al-Alusi, as well as a bodyguard, was ambushed by insurgents. Mithal survived. Ayman and Gamal died of gunshot wounds, as did the bodyguard, Hayder Hassain. After his sons’ deaths Al-Alusi came to the United States, and with help from independent antiterrorism lobbyist Esther Kandel and Yehudit Barsky, director of the AJCommittee’s division on Middle East and international terrorism, he shared his family’s story with several members of Congress. One who has attempted to provide Al-Alusi some assistance, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), called Al-Alusi “the definition of courage.” “Despite losing his two sons to terrorists, he stayed in Iraq because he knows his country needs him,” Shays said. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) also weighed in. “Mithal Al-Alusi is a man of outstanding moral courage and physical bravery,” said Lantos, who has tried to help him. “His unswerving commitment to peace, democracy and tolerance — for which he has paid the heaviest price — personifies the values that all of us hope will define the new Iraq.” Al-Alusi has had to scrounge for funds in recent months to keep the DPIN alive. He believes the United States should support smaller political parties, such as his, that advocate individual rights and alliances with other democracies. In general, he maintains, the United States should be bolder in asserting the need for democratic and pluralistic values in the new Iraq. Specifically, he would like to see the United States “push for liberal education, support new free media and open doors for more Iraqi students to study in the U.S.” Despite great obstacles, he is deeply grateful to the United States for liberating Iraq. “Thank you, America,” he said in his speech to the AJCommittee. “Without your help, nothing could have changed in Iraq.”

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