Not that this is the first time. In September 2004, al-Alusi made his first trip to Israel, also to attend a counter-terror conference. Apparently as payback for visiting Israel, assassins went for al-Alusi not long afterwards, killing his two sons.
But Iraq is different now, right? The US troop surge has brought victory within sight, right? Hardly.
Last week, al-Alusi was stripped of parliamentary immunity, clearing the way for his prosecution for violating an Iraqi law from 50 years ago that barred visiting Israel. According to AP, the law allows for the death penalty, but al-Alusi probably won’t face it.
“What has happened was a catastrophe for democracy,” Al-Alusi told The Associated Press in an interview in his Baghdad home. “Within an hour’s time, the parliament became the policeman, the investigator, the judge, the government and the law. It was a sham trial.”
Al-Alusi said he went to Israel to seek international support for Iraq as it struggles against terrorism, and insisted that the outcry reflects Iranian meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs — an accusation often leveled by Sunnis like himself against Iraq’s mostly Shiite neighbor.
“Iran is behind Hamas and Hezbollah and many other terrorist organizations. Israelis are suffering like me, like my people. So we need to be together,” he said. “Peace will have more of a chance.”
Al-Alusi’s goal for the trip was evidently noble. But as one of his colleagues said, al-Alusi’s trip to a country that is historically seen as an enemy to Iraq was not exactly politically suave:
“Al-Alusi has insulted the hundreds of Iraqi martyrs who fell while fighting the Israelis,” said Osama al-Nujeifi, a Sunni lawmaker. “It was a provocative visit to a historical enemy.”
Nevertheless, his boldness has garnered significant support. The New York Sun recently ran an editorial backing al-Alusi:
Mr. Alusi spent the day Monday campaigning on the issue and says he has received overwhelming support. We would not count him out…. What a turnabout and a victory it would be if a visit to Israel actually made an Iraqi politician more popular.
Besides controversial visits to Israel, al-Alusi is known for assisting in the takeover of the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin in 2002 to protest Saddam Hussein’s reign at the time.
Al-Alusi was awarded the American Jewish Committee’s Moral Courage Award in 2005.
“Mithal Jamal Hussein Al-Alusi is a shining light of courage and bravery in a turbulent Iraq,” said AJC Executive Director David A. Harris. “Few people are as dedicated to the highest ideals of democracy and freedom, and have paid as high a price in the face of such adversity as Al-Alusi.”
Despite the controversy that follows his name, he is one we should keep an eye on. Not only because al-Alusi’s life is in danger at the moment, but also because he represents potentially positive relations between Iraq and Israel. Says AP:
Al-Alusi said Iraq should follow Jordan and Egypt in seeking peace with Israel, especially since Syria is moving in that direction. He insists Israel would have to make concessions to the Palestinians.
“We should act now because if the Syrian-Israel talks succeed, this means that Iraq will be isolated,” he said. “It’s the right time to open a new phase with Israel.”
The Jerusalem Post has additional coverage on the recent outcry.