CAIRO, Egypt - As calls for a reduction of troops in Iraq intensify in Washington, one of Iraq's leading liberal politicians yesterday warned President Bush against heeding the advice.
In a telephone interview with The New York Sun, Mithal al-Alusi yesterday said he expected a new wave of terror in his country, adding that Iraq and America's security were now inextricably linked and that it would be a "huge mistake" if American soldiers were brought home in 2006.
The warning, one of the clearest to date from an Iraqi politician against a premature evacuation, comes as the president is expected to give a major address Wednesday on Iraq and the war on terror and after a delegation of Iraqi leaders and groups representing insurgents agreed on a statement calling for an eventual timetable for withdrawal. Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times quoted anonymous aides to Mr. Bush as saying that he will announce the first drawdown of American soldiers from Iraq in anticipation of the 2006 midterm elections. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Warner, a Republican of Virginia, said yesterday that he hoped the president would use the occasion of the speech to give a detailed account of how the war was going, in the style of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
"Iraq is the main symptom of the terrorists, and I think we are going to have a new level of attacks in the area. It would be a huge mistake if Washington has made a decision to take the soldiers back. They cannot do it," Mr. al-Alusi said yesterday. "We are now trying to stop the terrorist attacks against America here."
Mr. al-Alusi's Iraqi Nation Party narrowly lost a bid to gain a single seat for the National Assembly in last January's elections, but there are indications that his party will do well in the elections scheduled for December 15. On November 19, an Iraqi newspaper, al-Bayyna, which is run by the Shiite Arab Iraqi Hezbollah Party, released a poll in which Mr. al-Alusi came in second to the current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, among Iraqis when asked who they would support to be the next prime minister. Of those polled, 21% said they would support Mr. al-Alusi. Yesterday, the party leader said he expected his party would gain between 15 and 25 seats in next month's elections.
Mr. al-Alusi last year lost both his sons, who were assassinated in broad daylight in Baghdad. He has been an outspoken critic of both appeasement of former Baathists, who he blames for murdering his sons, and of the influence of neighboring Iran. In August 2002, before the fall of Baghdad, Mr. al-Alusi led a daring raid on Iraq's embassy in Berlin, briefly capturing the press's attention before being arrested by German authorities. Earlier this year, with fellow democrats from Iran, Syria, and Libya, he formed a group devoted to freeing political prisoners in the Middle East.
In the interview yesterday, Mr. al-Alusi attributed the recent talk of American withdrawal to "the election season in America." On November 15, the Senate voted 79 to 19 for a resolution demanding the White House give regular progress reports on the war, after defeating a Democratic resolution calling for a timetable for withdrawal of troops.
Mr. al-Alusi also dismissed yesterday the recent statement from an Arab League-sponsored conference on Iraqi reconciliation calling for an eventual timetable for withdrawal. He said his party was campaigning on a platform touting Iraq's partnership with America.
"Bush in the Iraqi eye is a great man, to the liberals he is a great man," Mr. al-Alusi said. "We know the huge price America has paid, but America now has a partner in the Middle East. When I campaign, I am talking about the strategic relationship and how this is in Iraq's interests." Mr. al-Alusi was particularly critical of American politicians and writers who claimed the president deceived the public in order to go to war. He said that his party would press the Iraqi government to renew the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which he said he believes Saddam clearly had before the invasion.
"Saddam is a weapon of mass destruction," he said. "Whatever Americans say now, Saddam was a danger to the peace, and we have enough evidence. He was an important part of the terror network. Also, 27 million Iraqis are free now, they can think freely. This are very important for American values and an American strategy. They will find the weapons, I am sure they will."
It was also apparent from the interview yesterday that old rifts between Mr. al-Alusi and Iraq's deputy prime minister, Ahmad Chalabi, keep them apart. Mr. al-Alusi was dismissed in 2004 from the Iraqi National Congress after he gave interviews from a counterterrorism conference in Israel. At the time, Mr. Chalabi was aligned with Iranian-supported parties that do not recognize Israel's right to exist. In an interview in October with "60 Minutes," Mr. Chalabi said he saw no reason why Iraq should not eventually have formal relations with the Jewish State.
But Mr. al-Alusi is critical of Mr. Chalabi's ties to Iran. "I am sad to hear him say that he got the green light from Tehran to be prime minister," he said, referring to a quote from Mr. Chalabi upon leaving Tehran before arriving in Washington this month for a visit with senior Bush administration officials. "This quote is all over the media here. It is a kind of stupid politics that I don't like. Iraq is Iraq." Mr. Chalabi's office yesterday offered no response.
Toward the end of the interview, Mr. al-Alusi said he envisioned Iraq as a long time ally not only of America, but of other liberal states in the region. "The future alliance is America, Israel, Iraq, and Turkey," he said.
Correction from November 29, 2005:
"An Iraqi Politician Warns Against U.S.Troop Withdrawal" is how a headline on page 1 of yesterday's New York Sun should read. An incorrect word appeared in the headline.