'It's crazy that we still think the Israelis are our enemy'
Mithal al-Alusi is a marked man. The Iraqi politician, who has visited Israel three times and believes in peace and co-operation between the two states, witnessed the death of his two sons, Ayman, 29, and Jamal, 24, when his car was ambushed in in Baghdad in February 2005. All because he supports peace with Israel.
In London last week, Sunni politician al-Alusi - he is the leader of the avowedly liberal and secular Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation - told the Jewish News: "I'd do it all again. I have no regrets."
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Al-Alusi - sentenced to death by Saddam Hussein because of his outspoken views - was astounded to find there were "400,000 Israelis of Iraqi origin, and they have contributed hugely to the state, in the arts, in politics, in sport. This isnít surprising to me, because Iraqi music and culture were developed by Jews who were in Iraq before Islam and before the Arabs. I am so happy now to say I have friends in Israel".
Although he has no connections with the Israeli government, he said he would "love to have it in the future, when I have a role in Baghdad. And a future Iraqi-Israeli relationship will be the real support for peace in the region."
He said: "Most Iraqis don't want, don't like and resent having to wait for someone in Gaza, Ramallah or Cairo to tell them: 'Now you can have peace with Israel.' So far, I have visited Israel three times and I'd do it again, despite everything. I even stood up in the Iraqi Parliament and said it.
"The fascists, extremists and even friends have to understand, there is no other way," he said. "We will pave the road for peace. If the fascists and extremists thought that by attempting to kill Mithal al-Alusi the advocates of peace in Iraq will be stopped, then they have made a grave mistake. We will be calling for peace with all neighbouring countries. We will be calling for peace with all countries of the region. And we will be calling for it to be fought by any means."
He added: "Terrorists like to show that Islam has a message of killing, but true Islam has only a message of peace. They claim that Islamic principles encourage killing, while the only principles that encourage this are the principles of the Ba'ath Party and the heathens of al-Qaeda."
Al-Alusi says the biggest threat to the region are the "fascists and extremists" running neighbouring Iran. "I'm trying to do my best in Iraq, helping to rebuild the nation, working on human rights, working for peace and understanding in the Middle East," he said.
And he was grateful to the Americans, "for playing an important role in rebuilding Iraq, despite all the mistakes they made - and they made a lot of mistakes. But one of the problems now is that we have no security, no army, and we have very dangerous neighbours. The fascists and extremists who run Iran are filling the vacuum left by the Americans, not the Iraqi government, because it is not capable of running the country.
"Iran is playing the main role in Iraq. And this is terribe because it is human beings who are paying the price daily."
Iraq, he maintained, was a unified society - not just split into three main groups, the Shia majority, the Sunnis and the Kurds. "Shia Iraqis are Iraqis, just like Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis. The society is made up of human beings, of individuals, and that's what my party believes in. We want internal peace, because we do not differentiate between Shia, Sunni or Kurd."
The Iranians were "using religion as a tool to reach their goals - to dominate Iraq. If they really cared about Iraqi Shi'as, they'd support the current Iraqi government, which is Shi'a-led. But the good news is that from Iraqi Shi'as, some other Arab countries and Turkey, is that Iran is not getting it all its own way in Iraq. And the internal opposition to their methods is growing because the Iraqi democratic process is very important to ordinary Iraqis."
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