An Iraqi Underdog On Comeback Trail

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 28, 2005

BAGHDAD, Dec. 27 -- Mithal Alusi's visit to Israel for a conference on terrorism and security in September of last year -- unprecedented for an Iraqi politician -- was an act of political suicide.

He was indicted, though never tried, by Iraq's highest criminal court for visiting an "enemy state." He was fired from his leadership post in the Iraqi National Congress, a party led by the current deputy prime minister, Ahmed Chalabi. The small party that Alusi later founded won no seats in January parliamentary elections.

A month later, Alusi, who is in his early fifties, narrowly escaped assassination when insurgents opened fire on his car. Two of his sons were killed, along with a bodyguard.

Yet now the longtime exile, who returned after Saddam Hussein's ouster, is attempting to stage an improbable political comeback. His Nation Party, which received only about 4,300 votes in January, earned more than 30,000 in elections two weeks ago -- roughly the same number as Chalabi's party.

The final results of the Dec. 15 elections will not be known until early next month, but because Alusi received relatively strong support in Baghdad, he may win a seat in parliament. He spent much of Tuesday at election commission headquarters, urging officials to eliminate about 45 ballot boxes from Baghdad neighborhoods where fraud and other cheating were widely reported. Those votes will determine whether he qualifies for the legislature, he said.

"We had a great result and I don't want it to be stolen from us," Alusi said in an interview at his office. An AK-47 assault rifle rested indiscreetly beneath his desk; oil portraits of his slain sons, Ayman, 29, and Jamal, 22, hung on the wall. "If there is anything right in this country, we will not be denied," he said.

Pugnacious and plainspoken, Alusi, a Sunni Arab from the city of Fallujah, was once a member of Hussein's Baath Party. But he ran afoul of the dictator, who was notoriously ruthless to potential rivals, and fled the country one step ahead of an execution order in 1976.

"We were stupid young people, talking too much and writing fliers," Alusi said. "I was lucky to get out."

He moved to Egypt, then to Syria and finally to Germany, where he opened a clothing store and became a force alongside Chalabi in the international movement to promote Hussein's ouster. In 2002, he made headlines after he organized a group of Iraqi expatriates in a fleeting takeover of the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin. German commandos stormed the building, and Alusi spent 13 months in jail.

He returned to Iraq last year and was elevated to director general of the country's De-Baathification Commission, charged with identifying and removing former members of Hussein's party from government posts.

But then came his trip to Israel, which he said was the result of an invitation to a conference from a European expert on counterterrorism. Entering the country on his German passport, he spent six days there; the news media picked up on the visit and word quickly spread back to Iraq.

"I am so happy to say I found the Israelis worried about the same problems we have in Iraq. The same enemies even, to some extent: the Baathists, Iran and Syria. The same curse of terrorism," said Alusi, who said he had no contact with the Israeli government.

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