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.


Game of thrones: Moscow ‘aiding Taliban to undermine US role’

Updated 42 min 45 sec ago

Game of thrones: Moscow ‘aiding Taliban to undermine US role’

  • Russia financed and supplied weapons to insurgents, Afghan officials claim

KABUL: Russia has aided the Taliban for years to force a US withdrawal from Kabul and undermine American influence in the war-ravaged country, a governor and several former Afghan officials told Arab News on Saturday.

Rahmatullah Nabil, director of Afghanistan’s intelligence until 2015, said: “Moscow initiated contact with the Taliban through Iran before 2014, just as Daesh emerged in Afghanistan. Russia believed that the Taliban, unlike Daesh, only had a local agenda and no external ambition.”

He added that Russian engagement with the Taliban began with a “covert meeting in a central Asian country in 2014/2015.”

Nabil’s claims follow news reports last week that allege Moscow offered bounties to the Taliban for the killing of US soldiers in Afghanistan.

The reports, based on US intelligence, were established from intercepted electronic data which showed financial transactions between Russia’s military intelligence agency and a Taliban-linked account. US officials have also named an Afghan contractor who acted as a key middleman in the relationship.

Afghanistan is seen as an important area of Russian foreign policy. Moscow has long regarded Kabul as a key part of its sphere of influence in Central Asia.

Nabil said Russia built ties with the Taliban by investing in key areas and supplying weapons.

“Russia invested in four layers in Afghanistan — high-ranking government officials, politicians, Taliban and local warlords in the north. To the first two categories, it sent financial support through Hawala (a traditional tool for money transfers) through some Afghan businessmen, and a top-up in fuel which was exported to Afghanistan,” he said.

He added that weapons “were given at some borders and crossing points.”

“In 2016, Moscow also handed over 10,000 AK-47s to government forces. Even the government does not know where the rifles are,” he said.

Moscow welcomed the toppling of the Taliban in the 2001 US-led invasion, but over the years it has — like its regional ally Iran — spoken against an extended US presence in the country.

Experts say Russia’s complaints have been long in the making.

It began with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, with Russia accusing the US and other Western countries of supplying weapons to Mujahideen factions who fought against Soviet troops.

Russia was eventually forced to retreat from Kabul after nearly 10 years of bloody occupation, creating a deep mistrust between Moscow and Washington, which eventually lead to Russia aiding the Taliban in its bid to force a US withdrawal.

Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani, a member of Kunduz’s provincial council, said he was “not surprised” to learn that Russia was using the Taliban. He added that Rahmatullah Azizi, an Afghan businessman, had acted as a middleman between the two groups.

“Azizi has disappeared all of a sudden, but the intelligence agency has arrested four people close to him,” Rabbani told Arab News.

Others said the war in Afghanistan had both “regional and international dimensions,” and that Russia was just one of the players in the “great game.”

“The war here is not between the government and the Taliban, otherwise you would have already seen a winner,” Dawlat Waziri, a retired defense ministry general, told Arab News, adding that Moscow was tending to old wounds.

“Russia wants the US to suffer a defeat like it did. It wants America to lose soldiers and see the downfall of its economy so that it is forced to leave Afghanistan,” he said.

Anwar Jigdalak, a former governor of Kunduz province, agreed.

Citing locals in northern Kunduz, 335 km north of Kabul, he said the Taliban had once sent one of its shadow governors, Mawlavi Abdul Salaam, to Tajikistan to hold talks with Russian officials and strengthen their relationship.

Kunduz is a strategic province which lies close to Tajikistan, and was the first city seized by the Taliban in 2015 “with the help of Russian intelligence,” Jigdalak said.

“But when Salaam returned to Afghanistan, an American killed him in an air strike. When Moscow wants to be present in Syria, which is very far, why not have influence in Afghanistan which is close,” he added, referring in part to the Russian support of Syria’s Assad regime.

Experts say other issues are at stake, too.

Aimal Faizi, an analyst, said the allegations of Russian bounties are “part of an effort by some to keep troops in Afghanistan.”

He tweeted: “They have been trying to prolong the US war and occupation in Afghanistan by different means.”

Both Moscow and the Taliban have repeatedly denied the allegations. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Thursday that the reports were “false,” and spread “to keep US troops in Afghanistan to confront its enemies.”

He added: “Our contacts with Russia have been all the time for political and diplomatic goals only.”

Last week’s report comes amid a push by several current and former US generals to keep US troops in Afghanistan, an important condition for a historic peace deal signed with the Taliban in late February this year.

If it happens, it could throw the spotlight on President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to withdraw all troops from the country.

Trump, who is standing for re-election in November, said all soldiers would leave by next spring based on the February agreement.