EXCLUSIVE: Meet Dalia Al-Aqidi, the Republican Iraqi refugee seeking to unseat Ilhan Omar 

Dalia Al-Aqidi is seeking to unseat Ilhan Omar in the November election. (Twitter/Dalia al-Aqidi)
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Updated 21 January 2020

EXCLUSIVE: Meet Dalia Al-Aqidi, the Republican Iraqi refugee seeking to unseat Ilhan Omar 

  • Dalia Al-Aqidi is challenging the controversial Democrat in November elections
  • Al-Aqidi says people are fed up with Omar's anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric

WASHINGTON: A Muslim immigrant from Iraq hoping to unseat Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has accused her rival of embracing anti-Semitism and failing “to love America.”

Speaking to Arab News, Dalia Al-Aqidi said she is running for Congress because Omar is doing “irreparable harm” to both America and Minnesota, the state where her congressional district is located.

Al-Aqidi, who was born in Iraq but sought refuge in the US in 1993, this week launched her candidacy for the Republican Party nomination for the seat that will be voted for in November elections.

She joined a crowded field of candidates to challenge Omar, the high profile and controversial Democrat best known as a member of the “Squad,” four left-wing progressive congresswomen that includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

 

 

Omar, 37, a Somali refugee, is favored to win her party’s nomination. She took office in January 2019 after soundly defeating Republican challenger Jennifer Zielinski in 2018.

“On the surface, we look the same. We're both women, refugees, Muslims, but we couldn't be further apart. She sows seeds of division, defending our enemies,” Al-Aqidi declared in a recent online campaign fundraising drive.

“When I became an American citizen, I took an oath to defend the Constitution and defend our country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Al-Aqidi accused Omar of “failing to represent the interests of constituents” of the farm-based 5th district on the Minnesota’s eastern border near Wisconsin. The district has been represented by Democrats since 1963, including Keith Ellison, an African American Muslim now serving as Minnesota’s Attorney General who held the seat from 2007 until 2019.

 

 

Omar has been accused of anti-Semitism for making comments critical of Israel and the Israeli lobby in the US. Last year she sparked anger when she said some members of Congress and the United State exploit “dual citizenship” with Israel to put Israel’s interests above the interests of America.

In February, Omar apologized for asserting that Congress’ support of Israel is driven by pro-Israel monetary contributions. “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” she said in a tweet referring to the American $100 bill.

The district’s Democratic history does not dissuade Al-Aqidi, a former Al Arabiya Op-Ed writer, who has been celebrated by the conservative media as a champion not only of Trump’s conservative policies but also of “family values.”

“I chose to run for Congress because I believe Ilhan Omar is doing irreparable harm to both Minnesota and America. Her consistent anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric are toxic and serve only to gain attention for herself and position herself as a celebrity—she’s not fighting for us, she is fighting for herself, even if that means fighting against us,” Al-Aqidi said.

“I was inspired to launch my campaign because I believe the residents of this district need someone fighting for them, not DC insiders and foreign influences. Our country needs leaders who actually love America.”

Al-Aqidi said Omar needs to be replaced, accusing the incumbent of being a voice of opposition to President Donald Trump and fueling division while supporting America’s enemies.

“Omar has spent her entire time in Washington sowing seeds of division and actively supporting our enemies, while also doing everything she can to prop up her own celebrity status instead of fighting for her constituents,” Al-Aqidi said.

“Even when President Trump has taken action to help her constituents, Omar condemns him simply out of personal hatred. Meanwhile, more scandal and corruption flood out of her office every week. Minnesota’s 5th district deserves someone who is fighting for them, not the radical left in DC.”

Al-Aqidi said her top issues as she enters the first round against five Republican rivals include strengthening both the district’s economy and the country’s national security, describing herself as a champion of Trump’s tough stand on immigration.

“I believe those wishing to do harm to the US are attempting to gain access to the US every day,” said Al-Aqidi, rejecting the assertion that Trump is anti-Muslim and is instead seeking to block extremists and violent criminals from entering the country.

“I support President Trump’s efforts to secure the border and fix our legal immigration system. Meanwhile, Omar wants to open up our borders and allow those same dangerous individuals to freely enter the country.”

Al-Aqidi said that despite the district’s heavy Democratic voting history, voters are embarrassed by Omar’s actions and want change. She said that while Omar “hates” America, she loves her country and its policies, which welcomed her and millions of other Iraqis and Arabs into the country.

“This campaign will be different. First, the people of District 5 have just experienced two years of being embarrassed of Ilhan Omar’s offensive antics. And two years of her ignoring her constituents in order to become a hero of the resistance,” Al-Aqidi said.

“I think voters will want to put a lot of this behind them and support a candidate who actually loves the country she’s elected to represent. The hardworking families of this district need and deserve better, and we’re going to show them that there is a better alternative.

Despite strong criticism of Omar’s political record, Al-Aqidi did not address Omar’s personal controversy, her decision to file for a divorce last November from her husband of 23 years, Ahmed Hirsi. The wife of Omar’s chief political consultant, Tim Mynett, alleged in a divorce filing in August 2019 that her husband engaged in an extra-marital affair with Omar.


Unfurling the story behind the endangered pangolin

Updated 17 min 29 sec ago

Unfurling the story behind the endangered pangolin

  • The pangolin is considered the most-trafficked animal on the planet — the victim of mass poaching for bushmeat and sales of its scales, especially to China
  • Researcher Maja Gudehus: You can’t keep them more than a few days. They don’t eat, die from stress, gastritis, and other problems we don’t know yet

DZANGA-SANGHA NATIONAL PARK, Central African Republic: The prehistoric shape is hard to make out as it moves slowly through the gloomy forest, so trackers listen for the rustle of scales against the leaves to pick up its trail.
Their target is the long-tailed pangolin — a little mammal also called the scaly anteater, which will be lucky to survive to the end of this century.
The harmless creature has no defense against predators apart from its small size and a camouflage of brown scales covering its body.
Today, the world’s pangolin species are listed as either vulnerable or critically endangered.
The pangolin is considered the most-trafficked animal on the planet — the victim of mass poaching for bushmeat and sales of its scales, especially to China.
According to a study published in 2017 by the Conservation Letters journal, between 400,000 and 2.7 million of the animals are hunted each year in central African forests.
Their plight has leapt to worldwide prominence as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The microbe is believed to have leapt the species barrier in markets in China, where pangolins and other wild animals are killed for their meat.
After testing more than 1,000 samples from wild animals, scientists at the South China Agricultural University found the genome sequences of viruses found on pangolins to be 99 percent identical to those on coronavirus patients.
Anecdotal evidence from Gabon suggests that the bushmeat trade in pangolins has plummeted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — but wildlife experts say it is too early to say whether this decline will last, and what impact this will have on the creatures’ survival.
The Dzanga-Sangha National Park, in the far southwest of the CAR, is the last sanctuary for animal life in a poor country ravaged by civil war. Its dense forest offers one of the world’s few refuges for a species facing extinction.
In this haven, pangolin trackers have no interest in the creature’ meat or taking the scales that sell at phenomenal prices in Chinese traditional medicine for their supposed therapeutic qualities — claims that are scientifically unproven and strongly contested.
Researcher Maja Gudehus is leading a team in Dzanga-Sangha to study pangolins in their natural habitat, the better to understand their ways and to protect them.
The project is unique in Africa. While their meat is prized, little is known about pangolins scientifically. Gudehus wants to unlock knowledge about their longevity, territory, food, life habits and reproductive cycle.
“Virtually no data exists about the long-tailed pangolin and not much more about the other African species,” the Swiss scientist explained while watching her protege clamber in the branches overhead.
The animal is particularly easy to capture. When it senses danger, it curls up into a ball, which humans have but to pick up. But in captivity, it is one of the most difficult creatures to study.
“You can’t keep them more than a few days. They don’t eat, die from stress, gastritis, and other problems we don’t know yet,” Gudehus said.
The only solution is to monitor a few clearly identified specimens, with the help of Pygmies in the region. The knowledge of the Baka people, fine guides to the forest, is essential in tracking the fragile and fearful animals.
Of three creatures recently under observation, one has vanished and another was the victim of a hitherto unknown parasite.
“Normally one can tell when an animal is not well. But pangolins can die in half an hour without giving you time to notice,” said Gudehus.
Gudehus uses whatever she can to provide necessary treatment. Her laboratory is also her home, a tiny shack besieged by vegetation, where scientific literature and boxes of medical supplies are packed in between her microscope and a camp bed.
“We used to see many pangolins,” said Didon, one of the most respected Baka trackers in the region. “Today, they’ve become rare.”
While all four African species of pangolin are present in the CAR and officially protected, the law is very hard to enforce. Two-thirds of the country are still in the hands of armed groups following a succession of conflicts.
“Unlike elephants, pangolins are very difficult to track, and it’s rare to be able to arrest poachers in the act,” said Luis Arranz, the national park representative of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
“We have to rely on seizures on the road and on our informers.”
In the park’s offices, Arranz opened a metal door to give an idea of the scale of trafficking. Crates on shelves are overflowing with scales that had been destined for the Chinese market. The collection is valued at several hundred thousand euros (dollars).
“Here, many people do that,” said a local hunter, asking not to be named. “A pot of pangolin scales sells for about 30,000 CFA francs (46 euros / $50). If there was work here, people wouldn’t hunt.”