In a video posted to YouTube on Sunday, former Iraqi member of parliament Taha al-Lahibi is shown giving an unusual explanation for why he thinks President Obama is being "more cooperative with Shiite Iranians."
Obama is willing to work with Iran because of the "Shiite background" of his parents, Lahibi reasoned during an interview on an Arabic-language satellite channel. The former lawmaker pointed to the U.S. president's middle name as proof, with Hussein also being the name of Shiite Islam's holiest martyr.
American readers may groan when they hear Obama, a practicing Christian, being accused of a covert Islamic agenda. Even before he was elected, rumors swirled that Obama, whose estranged father has been described as a Muslim who lost his faith, had been educated at a radical Islamic school as a child in Indonesia. Despite frequent debunkings of these conspiracy theories, they persist: In one poll conducted last year, 54 percent of Republicans were found to believe that Obama was a Muslim "deep down."
In the Middle East, the theory takes on another edge. Before the 2008 U.S. presidential election, state-run Iranian newspapers published articles suggesting that the Democratic contender was a Shiite Muslim, despite a distinct lack of proof (Obama's father comes from Kenya, where Sunni Islam is dominant). When Obama won the presidency, there was even some pride in Iraq's Shiite strongholds, such as Baghdad's Sadr City district. "When Obama won," one local told Time magazine in 2008, "it was a big day in Sadr City. Many people felt, Now we have a brother in the White House."
In 2015, with Iranian-backed Shiite militias a powerful force in Iraq's battle against the Sunni Islamic State extremist group and Obama pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran, the rumors may have resurfaced. Lahibi, once a politically mainstream if relatively obscure Sunni lawmaker, has also suggested recently that the Islamic State was "founded by the Syrian regime with the help of Iran and was penetrated by the United States afterwards," according to Iraqi News.
Lahibi's comments do not have widespread support in Iraq. "If nothing else, these latest comments may serve as an indication of how polarized things have become in Iraq since the emergence of ISIS," Reidar Visser, an independent Iraq analyst, said in an e-mail. The Islamic State is also known as ISIS and ISIL.
Hayder al-Khoei, an associate fellow at London's Chatham House, noted that Lahibi had been mocked online for these and other comments. "Conspiracies and rumors from fringe elements aside, this nonsense doesn't have much traction in Iraq at all," Khoei said.
Lahibi isn't the only one who has recently peddled the theory that Obama has Shiite lineage, however. "There is one thing we must not forget. I am not peddling some theory, and I am not being racist, but Barack Hussein Obama is the son of a Shiite Kenyan father," Syrian writer Muhydin Lazikani said during a recent interview with the London-based al-Hiwar television channel.
"All the childhood memories of the man who rules the White House are Shiite memories," Lazikani added. "This is why the Iranian issue is so important to him, and why he is so anxious for Iran to emerge victorious, and for Syria and all the countries of the Arab Gulf to be shattered."
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