Iraq's new prime minister, Saadoun Hammadi, once studied at the University of Wisconsin, and a professor who knew him said Saturday that Hammadi's American connection was a hopeful sign.

"I look at this as a slight ray of light on the horizon with Iraq," said John E. Ross, who was a graduate student with Hammadi in the 1950s.College friends remembered Hammadi as a caring individual.

"He's a gentle person. He's a very intelligent man. I feel much better for having him in that position," said Kenneth H. Parsons, the retired University of Wisconsin professor who worked closest with Hammadi during his time there.

Parsons said Hammadi, whose father was a date merchant in the holy city of Karbala, was not raised in a wealthy family. Hammadi first attended the American University in Beirut and then the Wisconsin university on scholarships, his former professor said.

He earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin in 1957.

Hammadi returned to Iraq where he rose quickly through the ranks of the ruling Baath Arab Socialist Party and the Iraqi government. As deputy prime minister, he gingerly advocated compromise with Iran during the 1980-88 war.

Parsons remembered talking to Hammadi about the power of foreign oil companies over Iraq and other countries in the Mideast.

"He had the idea that the oil belonged to the Iraqi people," Parsons said. "He was instrumental in organizing OPEC."