"We are all brothers, Sunni and Shi'ite," began a chant in the auditorium, where hundreds of tribal sheikhs in Arab head dresses and flowing robes had gathered to hear Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speak as part of his campaign for a March 7 vote.
Another chant followed: "Iraq is our mother and father".
Maliki, who heads the State of Law coalition in the parliamentary ballot, has Shi'ite Islamist roots, but is trying to convince Iraqis that he is a non-sectarian nationalist.
Standing before some 600 tribal leaders from dictator Saddam Hussein's home province of Salahuddin on Friday, Maliki had some convincing to do after backing in recent weeks a purge of poll candidates with alleged links to Saddam's Baath party.
Sunnis, a minority who lost their grip on power after the ousting of Saddam, saw the candidate ban as yet another attempt to push them to the political sidelines.
Ridden was one of the few who voiced dissent among the hundreds in the hall who had travelled some 150 km (95 miles) from Salahuddin to a Baghdad hotel to hear Maliki speak.
The sheikhs, effectively Maliki's guests, were loath to openly criticise their host.
Wooing tribal leaders is crucial in Middle Eastern politics, where sheikhs can hold sway over hundreds of voters.
In Maliki's other campaign stops, media reports and at least one local official who declined to be named said State of Law had handed out substantial gifts. Reuters journalists were also offered a gift at Maliki's rally on Friday.
Picked as a relatively obscure compromise candidate in 2006, Maliki has powerful opponents in the Shi'ite south and is likely to need Sunnis and other minorities if he is to cling to power.
For the first five minutes of his 40 minute speech, he spoke only of the brotherhood of Iraq's sectarian and ethnic groups, before going onto familiar topics of security and the economy.
After the rally, most people leaving the hall, decorated in banners praising the people of Salahuddin and featuring Maliki in mid-speech with his fist raised, gave positive reviews.
But tribal representative Ridden was still sceptical.
ReutersLast Mod: 27 Şubat 2010, 11:03