WASHINGTON - A criminal court in Iraq is seeking the arrest of a recently sacked senior official in the interim government on charges he violated a 1969 Baathist law that made travel to Israel treason.
The former chairman of the Iraqi government's debaathification committee, Mithal al-Alusi, told The New York Sun yesterday in a phone interview that he is in hiding after receiving threats on his life and his family, from both terror groups and members of Prime Minister Allawi's new intelligence services. He said he had been informed of the warrant for his arrest Friday and was quietly asked to leave Iraq within 48 hours. His offense was visiting an "enemy state" when he attended a counterterrorism conference on September 10 at the International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism in Herzliya.
"I will not give in to the Baathists or the Islamists," Mr. al-Alusi told the Sun. "I made a choice to visit a country in the region, and I stand by that choice."
Mr. al-Alusi was demoted within the Iraqi National Congress previously last month for his visit to the conference, but said he did not expect the state would take action against him.
"The coalition has already made so many sacrifices for Iraq, and for what? To return to the old laws of the Baathists?" he asked. "What are we doing? Where are we going?" The Iraqi newspaper al-Sabah, which received a grant from the coalition provisional authority, first reported the charges in its Monday edition and also said members of Mr. al-Alusi's family had disowned him for visiting the Jewish state.
The judge who issued the warrant against Mr. al-Alusi, Zuhair al-Maliki, is the same jurist who issued a warrant for the arrest of Ahmad Chalabi, for counterfeiting new Iraqi dinars. The judge dropped that warrant for lack of evidence. Mr. al-Maliki also issued a warrant this summer for the arrest of Mr. Chalabi's nephew Salim Chalabi, on charges that he ordered the murder of an official of the Finance Ministry. Those charges, too, were dropped.
Mr. al-Maliki, a former translator who attended law school when Saddam Hussein was in power, was appointed to the bench this year by the chief administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Paul Bremer. Mr. al-Maliki has come under criticism by other Iraqi jurists for lack of experience.
An adviser to Mr. Chalabi in Washington, Francis Brooke, told the Sun yesterday that the Iraqi National Congress believed its internal political matters should not be settled by the long arm of the state. He also said members of the congress in Iraq who are sympathetic to Mr. al-Alusi were providing him physical protection.
According to Mr. al-Alusi, he needs it. Mr. al-Alusi said in the interview yesterday that he cannot return to his home, after neighbors told him terrorists were hidden inside his garden, awaiting his return with machine guns.
"I have had to have my sons and wife sent to other homes," he said. "It has become too dangerous."
Mr. al-Alusi stressed that he was not "afraid," but he said: "I am nervous that the intelligence service will come after me. There are some members of the new intelligence service who have come in through the back door. By day they wear the uniform, but at night they are with the terrorists."
Iraq's relationship with Israel has become an issue in recent weeks, after Mr. Allawi shook hands with Israeli foreign minister, Sylvan Shalom, on the sidelines of the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly. The Iraqi leader came under harsh criticism from Islamic parties in his own government for the handshake, and he soon after clarified to the Iraqi press that his government would abide by the Arab League policy of refusing to recognize the Jewish state.
The Jerusalem Post, in its Tuesday edition, quoted the deputy executive director of the International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism, Jonathan Fighel, as expressing shock at the actions against Mr. al-Alusi.
"We want to send a message to the American Embassy in Baghdad that such an arrest is unacceptable," Mr. Fighel was quoted by the Israeli paper as saying. "Do they know about this incident? Do they agree that someone who arrived on a peaceful mission to Israel should sit in prison for the crime of wanting normalization with this country?" the Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying.