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WASHINGTON - In 2008, the Republican National Committee raised critical questions about campaign contributions Barack Obama received from a former Iraqi politician with a controversial past and close ties to an Obama fundraiser who was convicted on attempted bribery and extortion charges.

During this election cycle, the donor, Chicago-area resident Aiham Alsammarae, has given $4,800 to likely GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, Federal Election Commission records show.

Alsammarae gave Romney five contributions totaling $2,300 in 2011. He donated $2,500 more to Romney in May. He also gave $250 to Romney in January 2008, according to FEC records.

Asked if the RNC had concerns about the contributions from Alsammarae to Romney, RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski responded in an e-mail to USA TODAY that "Obama attacked Enron in 2008 but takes money from ex-Enron employees who profited" at the disgraced energy company that collapsed in 2001.

Romney's campaign did not answer phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

The RNC raised concerns about Obama's ties to Alsammarae, Iraq's interim electricity minister under the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and a college buddy of former Obama fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, shortly after Rezko was convicted in federal court in June 2008 on charges related to his effort to win millions in kickbacks from firms trying to do business in Illinois when Rod Blagojevich was governor.

Rezko gave to Obama's earliest political campaigns and advised Blagojevich, who later was also convicted on corruption charges.

Alsammarae and his wife put up two properties they owned to help Rezko raise bail as he awaited trial in 2008. Alsammarae had also donated $2,300 to Obama's 2008 election campaign - the individual maximum contribution at the time. But Obama's campaign announced in April of that year it had donated the same amount to charity after news reports about Alsammarae's part in raising Rezko's bail.

"Obama must answer questions so the American people can decide," the RNC wrote in a June 2008 press release that highlighted news reports about Obama donating the amount of Alsammarae's contribution to charity as well as noting Alsammarae's connection to Rezko. "A jury heard the facts and has judged Obama fundraiser Tony Rezko; Shouldn't the American people be able to do the same?"

In September 2008, the RNC featured Obama's connections to Alsammarae on the GOP-run BarackBook.com - a Facebook spoof website that traced Obama's ties to various controversial figures, including Rezko.

The BarackBook entry on Alsammarae notes he was jailed for several months at a prison in Iraq on charges that he embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars, while he served as electricity minister. The RNC also highlighted his subsequent break from an Iraqi jail inside the Green Zone.

Alsammarae eventually returned to his home and engineering company in the suburbs of Chicago, and the Iraqi government did not pursue its case against him. In late 2009, he launched an unsuccessful bid to run for Iraq's parliament.

Alsammarae did not respond to numerous requests for comment about his contributions to Romney, but he said in a 2009 interview with USA TODAY that he was disappointed with Obama's decision to donate the amount of money he contributed to the campaign to charity.

"I was angry that he didn't stand up and defend the donation, but I understood," Alsammarae said. "What was he going to do? It's a campaign."

By Aamer Madhani

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