BAGHDAD -- Parliament on Sunday suspended legal immunity for secular Sunni lawmaker Mithal Alusi, opening him up to possible felony charges for traveling to Israel last week to participate in an international counterterrorism conference.
"Are you holding me accountable for not hiding secrets? For being honest? For not walking behind the curtains?" he demanded of his colleagues Sunday. "It is better than visiting in secret."
Alusi is the only Iraqi politician in recent years to publicly visit Israel, a country declared an enemy of state by Iraqi law, and he used the occasion last week to accuse Iran of sponsoring terrorism and interfering in Iraqi affairs. At the end of his appearance he called for relations with Israel and other nations to fight terrorism.
"Partnership between Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Turkey and the US will ensure that we have the correct information and can respond fast," the Jerusalem Post reported him saying.
Alusi is a maverick figure in Iraqi politics and a staunch nationalist who advocates American-style democracy and continued cooperation with the U.S. military to limit Iranian influence in the region, which he links to al Qaida terrorism. A former expatriate, in 2002 he briefly seized Iraq's embassy in Berlin; German commandos stormed the building, and he spent 13 months in prison.
His first visit to Israel, in 2004, got him booted from Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress; he ran as an independent and won a seat in parliament anyway. Two of his sons were killed in 2005 in an apparent attempt on his life.
In recent weeks he has called for the resignation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and others in the governing Shiite coalition he claims are deliberately opening a "security vacuum" which Iran will fill.
But by suggesting even a limited partnership with Israel - a country widely reviled in the Arab world for its treatment of Palestinians -- he incensed many of his fellow lawmakers, and gave them ample room to assert their own nationalist and pan-Arab credentials.
Sunday's parliament session, originally scheduled as a hearing on oversight of government ministries, turned into a shouting forum for the airing of grievances against him.
Ali al Adeeb of Maliki's Dawa Party opened by suggesting Alusi's recent comments might be "part of an undisclosed plan to subdue our proud society to gradually accept what it rejects by principle."
Ayad al-Samarrai, of the Iraqi Islamic Party, called Alusi's visit a betrayal of his oath of office "as the Zionist Entity is described as an enemy of the State of Iraq in Iraqi law."
"This is my second visit," Alusi said, after from Hadi al-Ameri, of the Iran-backed Badr Organization and part of the Shiite Supreme Council, the biggest component of the governing Shiite Alliance. "After my first visit I was received as a colleague and a friend by the (Supreme) Council and by al-Dawa. What has changed this time? Is it because I mentioned Iran? If we are speaking about accusations - those who are working with the Iranian intelligence are the ones who should be accused. Enough false bids! You are selling Iraq to Iran!"
And so it went, with Alusi sometimes shouted down and so much noise that Hasan al Shammeri, of the mainly Shiite Fadhila Party, was almost moved to sympathy. "God let the devil have his say and then condemned him," he said. "Doesn't this man deserve at least that much?"
This soothed no one at all, and instead brought angry questions about whether Fadhila also supported visits to the Zionist entity (which, as Shammeri hastily made clear, it does not).
The Kurdish bloc was noticeably quiet, with Saedi Barzinji later, in an interview with McClatchy, questioning the political wisdom of Alusi's trip but maintaining that it would be "better for Iraq for him to remain" in office.
Some members of parliament were contemplating treason charges, which could carry the death sentence, but Tariq Harb, an expert in Iraqi law, said those charges had questionable legal basis. And an article in the Iraqi constitution, he noted, gives citizens the right to travel anywhere they wish.
By the end of Sunday's session, lawmakers had banned Alusi from traveling outside the country and from attending further sessions.
Alusi, for his part, said parliament's speaker had suggested the matter might be swept under the rug with an apology, but he has absolutely no intention of giving one.
"I believe in what I have done," he said. "I will never stop . . . They can arrest me, they can kill me, but I will keep going."
Powerful forces were aligning against him, he said, and Sunday's events were a victory for "Qaida and Iranian intelligence, a loss for democratic process."