IRAQ: Black Iraqis hoping for a Barack Obama win
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Abdul Hussein Abdul Razzaq laughs wearily when asked if racism is a problem in Iraq. As a black Iraqi, Razzaq says, he faces job and social discrimination and has little chance of getting a political appointment or being elected if he ran for public office.
That’s why Razzaq, a longtime journalist from the southern city of Basra, is hoping that Barack Obama becomes the United States’ next president. Not only will it be better for Americans, he says, it will help blacks the world over. ‘It will prove that Americans are recognizing that black people are just as capable as white people. It will be a historic accomplishment for black people all over the world if Barack Obama wins,’ Razzaq said.
Racism isn’t new in Iraq. Blacks were brought here as slaves from Africa more than 1,000 years ago to work for wealthy landowners in Basra, where most of Iraq’s black population still lives. Today, one of the insults sometimes hurled at black people is ‘Abd,’ which means servant or slave in Arabic, said Razzaq, who has founded a political organization called the Free Iraqis Movement to press for equal rights for black people.
Its goal includes amending Iraq’s constitution to ban discrimination against blacks, who Razzaq says number about 2 million here, and getting blacks elected to the national parliament.
He admits the effort so far has been frustrating. The movement is too broke to have a website, and it is having trouble generating support from Iraqis who fear rocking the boat during these politically volatile times. A recent visit to Baghdad to lobby political leaders to support his cause was futile, with most people advising Razzaq that his movement could be seen as sowing divisiveness at a time when Iraqis need to set aside their ethnic and religious differences to recover from the war.
Another problem, according to Razzaq, is that many of Iraq’s most powerful people still think of blacks as servants. Some tribal sheiks still keep blacks as slaves, he says.
Razzaq regrets not launching his movement five years ago, after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime. ‘We didn’t do it then because we were worried about being accused of trying of trying to stir up trouble at a time of nation-building,’ he said. ‘We had hoped the new parliament would come to include black people, but that did not happen.’
As he travels through the country, Razzaq carries with him the resumes and biographies of black Iraqis who he says have been denied jobs and high political appointments because of their race.
If Obama wins in November, he’s hoping Iraq’s leaders will take a closer look at the documents and give some black Iraqis a chance. And if John McCain wins? ‘It will be a big disappointment,’ Razzaq says.
-- Raheem Salman and Tina Susman in Baghdad
Photo credit: Tina Susman