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New Twist in Israeli Visit Case

Dismissed politician may never face trial for “illegal” Israeli trip after the judge who charged him is dismissed.
By Ali al-Yassy

The case of disgraced Iraqi politician Mithal al-Alusi, thrown out of his party and now facing criminal charges after an unsanctioned visit to Israel, took a new turn this week when the judge behind the case against him was dismissed.


Alusi, formerly a leading member of Ahmed al-Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress party, INC, had an arrest warrant filed against him by senior Iraqi judge Zuhair al-Maliki on his return from an international conference on terrorism held in Tel Aviv last month.


The charge is of visiting an “enemy country”. Although the interim law currently in force does not define Israel as a hostile state, there is still a statute from Saddam Hussein-era law books that does.


Prior to his visit, Alusi had led the hunt for members of Saddam’s regime as chairman of the National Board of de-Baathification.


His trip followed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s controversial handshake with Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom at a United Nations meeting in New York earlier in September, leading to concerns in the country that the government was trying to end the long-standing enmity between Israel and Iraq – a suggestion that has been strongly denied by the authorities.


The trip was widely condemned by Iraqi media, while the interim government moved to distance itself from Alusi’s decision to travel to the conference. The prime minister said Alusi was in no way representing the government.


In an interview with an Israeli newspaper, published during his trip to Tel Aviv, Alusi made the same point: that he was making the trip independently and represented neither the government or his party.


“I thought a million times before visiting [Tel Aviv]. I knew there would be a media onslaught against me, that I would be slandered or perhaps even receive death threats, but I am proud that I am working openly, and I don’t think those who visit secretly could do what I have done,” he said in the interview.


Despite the uproar caused by his participation in the conference, Alusi said afterwards that he felt it had still been worthwhile. “We are dealing with Iraqi national security,” he said. “Israel is America’s most important ally in the region. How are we going to win over America and the democratic world while we still deny Israel’s existence?”


He described criticisms of his visit as “weak, mob logic”.


INC spokesman Haidar al-Mousawi said the decision to expel Alusi was taken because he made the visit without consulting the party leadership. Alusi – who says he himself resigned from the party - claims he consulted almost every member of the leadership committee beforehand, receiving varying levels of support for his visit.


After criminal charges were brought against him, Alusi gave an interview with the Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat in which he said he believed his life would be in danger if he were imprisoned, and that friends had already warned him to flee the country. Country analysts, however, said they were doubtful there was any real threat to his life.


In the interview, published earlier this month, Alusi expressed outrage at the way he has been treated, accusing the intelligence services and even former INC colleagues of conspiring to trump up charges against him. He warned that if he was put in the dock, he would reveal “everything”.


“I will show how political decisions are made, and how the leadership has been made a captive of alliances with Iran,” he said, alleging INC links to pro-Iranian groups operating within Iraq.


The politician also claimed that prominent figures have already travelled to Israel secretly. Although he refused to directly implicate anyone by name, he hinted strongly that the three top men in the INC’s leadership, Ahmad Chalabi, Nabil Musawi and Haidar Musawi, have made such clandestine visits.


In a statement to IWPR, Alusi said the Iraqi government and judiciary would embarrass themselves if they punished him for visiting Israel, explaining that they would then have to deal with the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have visited Iran, which - in the absence of a signed peace agreement following the 1980-88 conflict - is still formally at war with Iraq.


”The opposition parties’ years of struggle against former president Saddam Hussein and his regime were not only aimed at removing Hussein from power but also at… allowing them [Iraqis] to live at peace with their neighbours,” he commented.


Even some of those who quietly support the establishment of a working relationship with Israel suggest that Alusi’s all-too-public trip was premature, raising the explosive question of the longstanding hostility between the two nations at a time of considerable turbulence within the Iraqi political establishment.


However, some Iraqi political analysts are predicting that in the light of judge Maliki’s removal, the case against Alusi may never make it to court.


Maliki, a recent law school graduate, served as interpreter to the former top administrator of the former Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer, who later promoted Maliki to the post of Chief Investigative Judge at the Central Criminal Court.


In that role, Maliki gained prominence by charging several Iraqi politicians – including two ministers – with offences ranging from embezzlement to murder. They include INC leader Chalabi and his nephew Salem, who headed the special court set up to try Saddam, Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, intelligence service chief Mohammad al-Shahwani, and Iraqi Hizballah leader Abdul Karim al-Mohammadawi.


The arrest warrant which Maliki filed against Ahmad Chalabi in August, on charges of possessing forged Iraqi currency, was dropped after the government intervened in the case.


Justice Minister Malek Dohan al-Hassan took the view that Maliki was overstepping the law, and threatened to resign unless the cabinet acted to curb the judge. This week, the government did act – and Maliki was sacked.


His removal – which most analysts see as part of continued jostling between leading political groupings in Iraq – could clear the way for charges against Alusi to be quietly dropped. Whether that will lead to renewed impetus for building ties with Israel is less clear.


Ali al-Yassy is a journalist in Iraq.


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