September 13, 2004
Many Iraqis want ties with Israel, Chalabi aide says
By Yoav Stern

Many elements in Iraq are interested in diplomatic ties with Israel,
according to Mithal al-Alousi, an aide to Ahmed Chalabi and a member of
Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress Party, who attended a conference on
terrorism at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center this week.

Al-Alousi heads the Iraqi government's de-Baathification campaign, meant to
keep Baathists from the old regime out of the new government.

He told Haaretz that "many intellectuals in Iraq know that Israel must be
taken into account as an existing fact and that generations of people have
been born here. It is in Iraq's interests to have diplomatic relations with
everyone, and that is what we want."

Ten days ago, the Iraqi ambassador in London told Haaretz that there is a
powerful lobby in Baghdad pushing for ties with Israel. Yesterday, the Arab
Web site Illaf published a report saying that Iraqi Foreign Minister
Hishiyar Zibai is the most prominent of those pushing for an end to the
state of war between Iraq and Israel.

But Israeli officials are following American advice and keeping a low
profile when it comes to talk of ties with Baghdad. The Israelis realize
that raising their profile on the issue could harm the new Iraqi regime's
efforts to stabilize the country.

According to the Illaf report, quoting Iraqi diplomats in Amman, last week
there was a meeting in Amman of senior Iraqis with Israelis. Jordanian
government sources said there are contacts between Israelis and Iraqis,
though usually it is business people, not government officials. The sources
said the Iraqi defense minister also favors a thaw in relations with Israel,
but Iraqi President Iyad Alawi is opposed, arguing that the Iraqi government
should concentrate on rehabilitating the country.

According to al-Alousi, his controversial party boss, Chalabi, did not know
about the trip to Israel, which was at the invitation of the conference
organizers. He said Chalabi may not have known, but he supports contacts
with Israel. "It's time to end the secrecy," he said, "the truth shall win."

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