In 1976, Saddam Hussein ordered the execution of one Mithal al-Alusi, a member of a Sunni family in the Fallujah area.
Al-Alusi escaped execution through a series of ordeals, and finally landed in Germany, where he became a businessman in the textile industry. In his German exile, he became active in the Iraqi opposition party led by Ahmed Chalabi. After Iraq was liberated by Coalition forces, he returned to his homeland.
Then he performed a truly courageous act: He went to Israel–the first Iraqi politician to do so–and spoke there about peace between all nations of the Middle East.
Nothing could have prepared him for what was to come. First, he was expelled from the Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi and the party deserted him after the backlash of threats started coming in. His party broke ties with him, and he was now a prime target for terrorists–who saw his remarks in Israel as the ultimate betrayal of Baathism and pan-Arab nationalism. Attempts were made on his life. He had every reason to leave Iraq–but he would not leave. And, to the dismay of some in the government, he would not be quiet either.
What he did instead was found the Iraqi Nation party. The premise of this party, says al-Alusi, is that “Iraqis must consider themselves Iraqis first”–before they consider themselves Muslims, Sunni, Shia, or anything else. In the elections last January, his party received about 4,500 votes; its campaign had been run on a bare-bones budget from al-Alusi’s personal funds and donations from Iraqis and others who shared the vision of an Iraq at peace with all of its neighbors.
Then, on February 8, this man bore the brunt of the attack that every Iraqi fears. The attack was meant for him, but instead killed his two sons and his guard. Just hours after his sons were killed he spoke to Radio Free Europe:
Again, the ghosts of death are going out. They are ready to kill a person, ready to kill the peace, ready to kill the victory of Iraqis and their right to life. Again, henchmen of the Ba’ath [party] and dirty terrorist gangs, al-Qaeda and others, are going out convinced that they can determine life and death as they desire. Iraq will not die. My children, three people [in all]–one of my bodyguards and two of my children–died as heroes, no differently from other people who find their heroic deaths. But we will not, [I swear] by God, hand Iraq over to murderers and terrorists.
Mithal al-Alusi was not backing down. The terrorists had made him only more determined.
There would be more attempts on his life. And he would not apologize for his views. In fact, he is known in Iraq for his unyielding position of not dealing with anyone who has ever been a true supporter of the Baath party or has supported or dealt with terrorists of any sort. Recently Iyad Jamal al-Din–an outspoken political activist who says that in order for religion to be protected, Iraq must be ruled by secular laws–tried to arrange an alliance between al-Alusi and the also-secular former head of the interim government, Iyad Allawi. While the two men had much in common, Mithal refused to bring his party into alliance with Allawi unless every former Baathist were removed from Allawi’s party.
Al-Alusi believes strongly that only America, Britain, and the other countries that have proven their allegiance to the Iraqi cause should be rewarded with Iraqi contracts and business. He has said that “without a strategic alliance with America, Iraq will be no more than another second-rate nation.”
Recently, al-Alusi was called to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad to speak with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Only when he arrived at the embassy did he find out why he had been called there: A poll had been conducted, which found that approximately 30 percent of the Iraqi people now expressed sympathy for him and his party positions.
Since that meeting, al-Alusi has been working on how to turn that sympathy into votes in the upcoming elections. The Iraqi government recently insisted on moving him into the International Zone (formerly called the Green Zone) because of the threats to his life. Al-Alusi was against the move, but the government prevailed: It did not want to be held responsible for the inadequate security if one of the attempts on his life were successful. (He nonetheless escapes the International Zone by spending most of his days in his office in the Karada district of Baghdad.)
A politician as principled and outspoken as Mithal al-Alusi offers hope for Iraq’s future. Consider some of his words to Radio Free Europe:
As for the advocates of religious intolerance willing to kill the [Iraqi] identity, or those who now imagine they might establish a [new] state in Iraq, be it religious or non-religious, I tell them, “Brothers, verily you have made a grave mistake.” I tell them, “There can be no state in Iraq except for one founded on institutions and law. . . . I will continue to call for peace–even [for peace] with Israel. And may all the world hear that there will be no war if the Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians, and Jordanians do not want war. I am not prepared to allow Iraqis to be turned into kindling for the flames of terrorists and ghosts of death.
Radical clerics such as Muqtada al-Sadr get most of the global airplay with their violence and their threats. But it’s people like Mithal al-Alusi who are working to build the new Iraq.
–Kerry Dupont is a consultant for organizations conducting work in Iraq and the Middle East. She has spent time in various parts of Iraq this year, working with Iraqi counterparts on educational projects and civil society activities in places such as Kirkuk, Erbil, Dohuk, Sulymania, and Baghdad; covering both the Arabic and Kurdish regions. She blogs at http://literalthoughts.blogspot.com.