From the Algemeiner:
August 21, 2012
Today President Obama warned Syrian dictator Bashir Assad that “use or deployment of … weapons of mass destruction” would be crossing a “red line,” that would prompt U.S. intervention. Former Iraqi Parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi told The Algemeiner this morning in a phone interview from Iraq that he believes President Obama should call for a United Nations Security Council Resolution stating Syria must give control of its WMD to the international community. He also shared his thoughts on Israel’s recent signals regarding Iran and what he sees as America’s responsibilities in the region.
Alusi, who served two terms in Iraq’s Parliament, has championed counter-terrorism cooperation among democracies, including Iraq, Israel, and the United States. Following his groundbreaking trip to Israel in 2004 to attend a counter-terrorism conference, extremists murdered his two grown sons, apparently as “payback” for Alusi’s visiting Israel. Refusing to be intimidated, Alusi has stayed in Iraq and continued to advocate for liberal values there including human rights, press freedom, rule of law, and cooperation among democracies.
Alusi has frequently been prescient about developments in the region. In 2006, he told this reporter that Iran was supporting both sides of the Iraqi insurgency—a claim that was controversial at the time but was ultimately confirmed by U.S. intelligence sources.
In a series of interviews from February through April of this year, Alusi gave this reporter a detailed account of what he characterized as extensive money-laundering being perpetrated in Iraqi banks by Iranian agents, as well as transport of “hundreds of millions of dollars in cash … in suitcases” by Iran’s agents from Iraq to Iran via Syria in order to skirt U.S.-led sanctions and prop up Iran’s regime. He asserted that many Iraqi politicians are aware of this activity, that some are taking bribes from Iran, and that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is being used as a “tool of Iran.” This week, The New York Times reported that a network of Iraqi banks are indeed “providing a crucial flow of dollars” that are helping Iran skirt U.S.-led sanctions, and that “American and Iraqi officials, along with banking and oil experts, say that Iraqi government officials are turning a blind eye to the large financial flows, smuggling, and other trade with Iran” and that in some cases Iraqi government officials are directly profiting from the activity.
This week, Alusi expressed grave concern that Assad’s weapons of mass destruction could wind up “in the hands of al Qaeda or Hezbollah” and be used against Israelis or others in the region. “They [al Qaeda or Hezbollah] would use them, they don’t care,” he said. He added that the fact that no one knows the location of the WMD within Syria is cause for serious concern.
Were Obama to bring the international community together behind such a U.N. resolution regarding Syria’s WMD, it would provide information on the role of Russia and China in supporting extremists in the region, Alusi said.
“We [would] see what China and Moscow will do,” Alusi said. “This kind of resolution will show us how far Russia will go to protect the regime in Damascus.”
That said, Alusi believes the U.S. should focus its efforts on preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. He has long warned that the Iranians are closer to attaining nuclear capability than many in the West have believed. He believes that Iran is heavily involved in promoting Assad’s crackdown in Syria and that “Iranians now maybe will use their agents, Syria, to transport chemical weapons, to use on Israel.” Moreover, he believes Assad’s crackdown is aided and abetted by Iran – to distract the U.S. from Iran.
“Iran would like for the U.S. to be tied up in Syria,” Alusi said. He believes the U.S. should not get militarily involved in Syria, but should keep its focus on stopping Iran, which he said is driving and strengthening much of the region’s extremism, including Assad and Hezbollah.
Alusi thinks that President Obama should, in coming days use the “huge space [that exists] in the Iraqi political arena and economy.” Obama could call for a conference of gulf states, to be held in Baghdad, Alusi suggests. The topic could be the importance of keeping open the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway vital to the economies of numerous gulf nations that Iran has threatened to close. President Obama could invite numerous gulf states whose economies are dependent on access to the Strait–including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel – and Iran.
“We will see who is ready to come and who is not ready,” said Alusi. “I believe the Israelis will be willing to come. So this is a signal of peace. This is proof for the international community the Israelis don’t want war.
“If Iran says, ‘We don’t want to come’ then we have proof they do not want to cooperate and we make clear for the international community who wants to make trouble and who does not. It also makes clear it is an international issue … And if the U.S. puts this together, it is proof no one wants a war.”
That said, Alusi has long favored a pinpointed, U.S.-led, multinational military operation to destroy Iran’s nuclear program if Iran fails to comply with international demands to cease its nuclear weapons quest.
Because he believes Iran is a threat to the security of the Mideast and the world, Alusi has said he does not believe it is Israel’s responsibility to launch a military operation, alone, to contain Iran.
“Americans have a responsibility,” he said. “Iraqis, Israelis, others in the region–we need you.”
Alusi believes it would be “not fair” for the entire burden of containing Iran to fall to Israel, and that if President Obama expects Israel to hold off on attacking Iran’s nuclear program, he should stake his legacy on the assurance that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.
“If it’s OK for the region for Israel to wait, then let President Obama come out and give a guarantee that there is time and Iran will not have a bomb by next summer,” he said. “I’ve always said Israelis should not have to do it alone, but if the international community doesn’t understand the danger of a second Holocaust or the [mentality of the Iranians], then the people who have the responsibility, have to act.”