A politician who takes risks

Talk to Iraqis here - particularly urban elites - about their politicians and one of them is bound to mention a rather unconventional choice in this month's elections: Mithal al-Alusi, a secular Sunni who has taken the unprecedented step of making two trips to Israel.

His goal, he says, is to form an antiterrorism alliance that would include the US, European countries, Turkey - and the Jewish state.

"How can we have a new Iraq if we push the same agenda as Saddam Hussein?" asks Mr. Alusi, a tall and well-dressed man in his 50s. "Many people said, because of what I did, they want to be part of our party."

Alusi paid a painful price for making a move that most Iraqis would call premature, at the very least. After Alusi went to Israel in the fall of 2004, he found himself thrown out of the Iraqi National Congress (INC). He was also accused by an Iraqi judge of breaking a 1969 law that deemed it treason for any Iraqi to travel to Israel. Worse, Alusi started getting death threats.

In February, Alusi was the target of an assassination attempt outside his home. The gunmen missed Alusi but killed his two grown sons. After that, Alusi moved into the Green Zone. He traveled again to Israel this year, to attend an antiterrorism conference.

"We like him because he's honest," says one Alusi voter, a secular Shiite, who asked not to be named. "We know we have other politicians who have been to Israel but lie about it. He doesn't candy coat things."

Alusi comes from a large Sunni tribe in the area of Haditha, grew up in Baghdad, and lived in Germany in the 1970s. He worked as a textile businessman and was active with the INC until coming back to Iraq in 2003. Today, he has been a popular guest on Iraq's TV talk shows during the elections.

Alusi's eyes soften when asked about his sons. He likens himself to other Iraqis who have lost loved ones since the start of the US overthrow of Hussein in April 2003. "We're not working in Iraq for personal goals. We work for something because we really believe in it," he says. "It would be stupid to let the terrorists win."

His choice of language is not a coincidence: He won't call his fellow Sunni Arabs, who are fighting US forces, "insurgents." But, he says, this month's election could be a turning point: "Those people are now part of the process, and we have to get them to deal with their problems in the parliament."

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