My Country Needs Me
by HEATHER ROBINSON
November 1, 2006
With the midterm elections fast approaching, the panic over Iraq seems more intense than ever. That country, the thinking goes, is a hopeless mess, and there could be a precipitous American withdrawal, especially if the Democrats win.
But doing so would leave the silent majority of Iraqis hostage to the most vicious extremists, abandoning those Iraqi leaders who have championed liberal democratic values. One of them is Mithal al-Alusi, a 53-year-old Sunni Arab who won a seat in parliament last December after having served as director general of the National Commission on de-Baathification. Mr. al-Alusi ran on a platform of religious pluralism, human rights, free markets and a free press. He calls for an alliance among democracies–including the U.S., Iraq, Israel and Turkey–to fight terrorism.
Not only does Mr. al-Alusi champion values many in the West hope will define the new Iraq, he has risked his life–and lost more than his life–for the cause. In September 2004 he attended a counterterrorism conference in Herzliya, Israel; after which insurgents threatened his family. The following February assassins opened fire on Mr. al-Alusi’s car as it approached his Baghdad home. He wasn’t in the vehicle, but his sons, 30-year-old Ayman and 22-year-old Gamal, were. Both were killed as their father watched. Still, Mr. al-Alusi was unbowed. “Even if these terrorists try to kill me again, peace is the only solution,” he told reporters minutes after the attack. “Peace with Israel is the only solution for Iraq. Peace with everybody, but no peace for the terrorists.” He continued to build his Iraqi Nation Party, which his fallen sons had helped establish, and which now has 15,000 members.
He describes his views less in ideological terms than in human ones. “An Iraqi mother, she has the right to have normal feelings for her baby. It’s the same for an Israeli mother,” he told me in a phone interview from Baghdad. “This is the best way to drive the world’s politics. Not to make it complicated.”
Mr. al-Alusi is not the only Iraqi political leader to reject ethnic and sectarian separatism. Hajim al-Hasani, a former parliament speaker, testified at a September congressional hearing. When Rep. Christopher Shays referred to him as a Sunni, Mr. al-Hasani politely corrected the congressman: “I am Iraqi.” Afterwards, Mr. al-Hasani told me it is a misconception to view the violence in Iraq as the expression of popular will: “The few bad apples can rotten the rest of the apples if nobody stops them.” Many of those “bad apples” aren’t even grown in Iraq. Following Saddam Hussein’s fall, foreign jihadists such as the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi rushed to join former Baathists in an effort to undermine the fledgling democracy. And Mr. al-Alusi told me that “Iran is fully involved in terrorist activity in Iraq.” He believes Tehran is playing both sides, backing Sunni terrorists as well as Shiite ones.
Polls suggest a majority of Americans think it was a mistake to enter Iraq. Mr. al-Alusi respectfully disagrees. “We didn’t have any kind of hope, and now, even with all our difficulty, we have hope.” Iraq today is a central front in a war against extremists who view the murder of civilians as political expression. “I will be killed–if not today, tomorrow,” Mr. al-Alusi says. “The point is not me, but children–for a child to be a child, not a killer; for a teenager to be a teenager, not an extremist.”
Mithal al-Alusi could have left Iraq for a comfortable life in exile; Mr. Shays, a friend, offered to help him relocate to the U.S. But he said no: “My country needs me.”
He has not given up the fight. How can we?