Powerful Iranian Shiite Clerics to take charge of religious affair in Iraq.
IRAN'S PLANS FOR IRAQ
Speculation grows Iranian cleric may lead Iraq's Shiites
By Paul McGeough - April 28, 2012.
A PUBLIC relations stumble between Tehran and Baghdad has intensified speculation that one of Iran's most senior clerics is about to extend his power - and Iran's theocratic system - into Iraq.
On his return from a visit to Tehran, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's office released statements on his meetings with several senior Iranian officials - but it was silent on Mr Maliki's encounter with 63-year-old Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. Despite a Baghdad blackout on what is understood to have been their third meeting in recent months, Iran's government-run news agency IRNA released a photograph of Mr Maliki and Ayatollah Shahroudi - who is Iraqi by birth - greeting each other warmly. An accompanying report on the visit barely mentions Mr Maliki, but quotes Ayatollah Shahroudi urging Baghdad to support the ''Islamic Awakening'' currently under way in the Middle East. Ayatollah Shahroudi, a powerful member of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei's inner circle, is positioning himself to become the next spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, a move observers say would be impossible without Tehran's blessing and funding.
The Iraqi religious establishment, based in Najaf, south of Baghdad, opposes religious intervention in day-to-day government. But in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's theory that God's authority is vested in the supreme leader and senior religious scholars is law. Speaking privately, a senior official in Baghdad described the meeting as ''extremely significant'', revealing at least tacit support by Mr Maliki for an Iranian plan to have Ayatollah Shahroudi replace the ailing Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiites. Reidar Visser, an Oslo-based analyst of Iraqi affairs, sees formidable obstacles to the Shahroudi bid, but warned: "By visiting Shahroudi, Maliki did nothing to kill the rumours about some kind of Iranian design on the holiest centre of Iraqi Shiism. "If Shahroudi should succeed … those arguing that Maliki is moving towards even greater co-ordination with the Iranian clergy would feel vindicated - and rightly so."
The plan seems to be inspired, in part, by a breakdown in relations between Mr Maliki's government and religious authorities in Najaf. Despite remaining aloof from day-to-day politics, the ayatollahs wield significant power in their real or perceived endorsement of the government and its policies.
For months now, all the senior clerics in Najaf have been abiding by an edict from Ayatollah Sistani that they not meet with politicians or government officials. Referring to the cloak-like robe worn by Arab men, a spokesman for one of the senior ayatollahs in Najaf told The Saturday Age: "We will not continue to cover their mistakes with our abaya."
Ayatollah Sistani's surrogates have recently become even more confrontational, openly attacking the Baghdad government during Friday prayers. One cleric widely linked to Ayatollah Sistani, Ahmed al-Safi, blamed government corruption for the failure to restore Iraq's electrical generation system.
"When patriotism is absent, officials sell themselves to foreigners for their kickbacks," he said while preaching at the holy city of Karbala. [smh.com.au]