Congress' only Muslim hears from sheiks on trip to Iraqby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, Congress' only Muslim, made a weekend trip to Iraq, where a pair of sheiks urged him to help counter al-Qaida's vision of Islam.
Ellison, D-Minn., said he met in Ramadi with the two sheiks, who oversee several hundred thousand congregants.
"They were very upset and concerned that al-Qaida is misrepresenting Islam," Ellison told reporters Monday during a conference call from Germany on his way back to the U.S. "And they were talking to me about what I can possibly do to work with them to give a clearer, more accurate picture of what Islam is all about."
Ellison said the U.S. military is working with religious leaders in Ramadi, forming what he calls a coalition to counter the insurgents.
"The success that's going on in Ramadi is not just because of bombs and bullets, but because the military and the U.S. and Iraqi military and Iraqi police are partnering with the tribal leadership and the religious leadership," said Ellison. "They're not just trying to bomb people into submission, what they're doing is respecting the people, giving the people some control over their own lives."
Ellison also reacted to a recent report from the chief auditor appointed by Congress, which found widespread corruption in Iraq. The report found that the Iraqi government is failing to supply water and other essentials to the country's people. Ellison said Congress must set a higher standard for how U.S. aid is used.
"There's got to be a higher level of accountability from the United States," said Ellison. "We've got to say that the money we have spent must be spent effectively and wisely, must put money in the pockets of people in this high unemployment rate, and absolutely must deal with issues as basic as electricity and water and things like that."
Ellison said he still believes it was a mistake for the U.S. to invade Iraq. But he says his trip was motivated by concern over the welfare of U.S. troops and the Iraqi people.
He was part of a delegation of six freshman House members, three Democrats and three Republicans, who visited Baghdad and Ramadi.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)