Descendants of Iraq's black rebels back Obama

Basra residents fear racism may hold him back

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Descendants of black rebels in the southern Iraqi oil city of Basra are unconditionally supporting Barack Obama in Tuesday's U.S. election though some fear racism may prevent him from winning.

"I don't think he'll win because he is black and America is racist. But if he wins, his success will benefit black people throughout the world and I hope Europe will follow the same route," said Sami Nassir Khami, a port worker in the city.

He is a descendant of hundreds of slaves who rose up against the Abassid government between the years 869 and 883 after they were brought by Iraqi landowners from eastern Africa, from where Obama's family originates.

Najem Abud, a 38-year-old teacher, is also praying for an Obama victory in the U.S. presidential election.

"I hope he will win and that he will therefore be the first black president of the United States and the world will understand that black people can govern the world," he said.

The so-called "Zanj rebellion" -- zanj is a pejorative word for black people -- began in 869 at the instigation of Ali ibn Mohammed, who claimed to be a descendant of Ali, the fourth caliph.

Mohammed convinced several hundred slaves in the Basra region to revolt against the central government in Samarra. The uprising quickly grew and the rebels won battles against the caliph's forces.

They built a town, al-Mukhtarah, and captured several others before the movement was crushed in 883.

"I would be very happy if Obama won because he is an Afro-American and I hope the majority of countries will one day be governed by black people. I observe that racism is strong in Europe, even in sports," said Abud Abdel Hafidh, a 43-year-old taxi driver.

Majid Hamid Ahmed, a 22-year-old economics student, is more cautious.

"Frankly, I don't think American politics will change if he is elected but we will be happy if the most powerful country in the world is governed by a black African," he said.

Descendants of the Zanj rebels represent 15 to 20 percent of the Basra region's 2.5 million inhabitants.

Frankly, I don't think American politics will change if he is elected but we will be happy if the most powerful country in the world is governed by a black African

Majid Hamid Ahmed

Victory for Obama would be a sign "that racism is behind us and it would be a source of pride for all black people around the world," according to Suhail Hamid Ahmad, a 22-year-old history teacher.

"If the most powerful country on the planet is led by a black man, we will feel that black Africans have become the leaders of the world," 30-year-old policeman Nawaf Wadih Mohammad said.

"It will be a true victory for black people because we have suffered down the ages and we had the feeling that Obama is close to the Arabs," was the view of Khalil Ibrahim Jassim, 60, a pensioner.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, British forces occupied Basra. Since December, security in the province of four million people has been under Iraqi control but 4,000 British soldiers remain at a base near the city's airport.

In March, the Iraqi government restored its authority in Basra with a major offensive against the militias which controlled many districts.

It will be a true victory for black people because we have suffered down the ages and we had the feeling that Obama is close to the Arabs

Khalil Ibrahim Jassim