BASRA, Iraq — He calls himself the "Iraqi Obama" and hopes to channel President Barack Obama's good luck by becoming the first black Iraqi to win an election.
Salah al-Rekhayis lives in a town southwest of Basra called Zubayr, and with the help of his campaign manager-sister and brother, has pasted campaign posters urging citizens to vote for him in Saturday's provincial elections.
He walks in the unkempt streets of his town, bending down to greet children with a big smile and a warm glow about him, feeling confident of the great ambition to win one of the 35 seats up for grabs in Basra.
Al-Rekhayis is one of an estimated two million Iraqis who have African roots — and one of only 800 in his town. According to al-Rekhayis, his people have never been allowed to run in any Iraqi elections, or to hold important executive positions of power in either political or corporate areas of the country. Until now.
"Obama is the reason I decided to run. We both have African roots," said al-Rekhayis. "We never had the same opportunities as other Iraqis before, but Obama gave me the push to run after he took the leadership of the most powerful country in the world."
Al-Rekhayis, a municipal employee, said he didn't have the money to run a full-fledged campaign. His home — a run-down three-roomed space with very little furniture and a photo of Barack and Michelle Obama on the living room wall — was turned into a makeshift campaign office.
He said they were so impressed with Obama's campaign and victory that he created a small party called the Movement of Free Iraqis and ran under its banner. He said they have already created a list of potential black candidates to run in the next Iraqi elections.
"When we found out that Obama is black from TV, we started to follow his news carefully," al-Rekhayis said. "We had a party and celebrated when he won the elections."
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