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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Slain poet’s verse encouraged dialogue

Sameer N. Yacoub Associated Press

BAGHDAD – The poet Rahim al-Maliki wrote about his dreams of Iraqi unity in a place where such appeals are drowned out by daily bombings. Al-Maliki lost his life in a suicide attack on Monday.

Al-Maliki – whose fame grew by hosting two shows on state-run television – was among 13 people killed in the suicide attack at a Baghdad hotel, where he was filming tribal leaders about their decision to join U.S.-led forces in the fight against factions linked to al-Qaida. Four of the tribal sheiks from the western Anbar province were among the victims.

In one of his shows, “The Guesthouses of our People,” the 39-year-old al-Maliki visited Sunni and Shiite groups and used his poetry to open dialogue about ways to end Iraq’s sectarian bloodshed. In Anbar, many tribal elders have agreed to help U.S.-Iraqi troops fight groups linked to al-Qaida in an alliance that the Pentagon considers an important blow to the insurgency.

Al-Maliki’s other show on the state-run Iraqiya television was “Feelings,” which examined love poetry written in the style he favored: the ordinary Iraqi dialect rather than classical Arabic.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite who is not related to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, received several honors in recent years, including the top prize for patriotic poetry in 2006, colleagues said.

Under Saddam Hussein, he was imprisoned twice on accusations of criticizing the government and expressing sympathy for fellow Shiites who suffered widespread crackdowns after a failed uprising in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War. He did not publish his work during Saddam’s regime, but he read his poems at gatherings – and they were passed along by admirers who memorized the verses.

Al-Maliki became well-known across the country after his shows were aired by Iraqiya.

In one episode of “Guesthouses,” he was shown wearing Arab traditional dress among tribal chiefs and policemen in Ramadi, the main city of Anbar, calling for all Iraqis to be united.