Babylon & Beyond

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IRAQ: Is Obama the new Khatami?

June 5, 2008 |  7:34 am


Barack Obama is currently basking in his hard-earned Democratic Party nomination and status as the first black major-party candidate for U.S. president.

But one prominent Iraqi politician has an interesting prediction for a potential Obama presidency.

Shiek Humman Hammoudi, a Shiite cleric and senior figure in the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, predicted that Obama's reform-heavy message and promises to shake up the system could founder on entrenched American political realities.

Hammoudi, who like many Iraqi Shiite leaders spent years in exile in Iran during the Saddam Hussein years, compared Obama to former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami -- who stunned the conservative Iranian establishment with his 1997 landslide win.

Khatami's eight-year run as president ended in comparative disappointment, as hard-line elements in the government cracked down on reformist activists and newspapers and frustrated his attempts to liberalize the system.

Obama_chesh_1_2"Obama resembles the phenomenon of Khatami in Iran," Hammoudi said. "Maybe he'll become the president and discover he can't do anything."

Hammoudi declined to state a preference between Obama and presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, but he has met both men. He described Obama as "exceptional, very polite and very young."

However, he doesn't believe that Obama's comparative youth would be a problem in handling the rigors of office.

"If it's a state of strong, established institutions, his youth doesn't matter," Hammoudi said. "But if it's a state that all depends on one person...."

He has met John McCain multiple times and praised him for his strong dedication to Iraq's future and his obvious personal strength.

"You can feel that he's very firm, that he's a military man," Hammoudi said.

— Ashraf Khalil in Baghdad

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

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