Friday, October 12, 2012

Al-Maliki and the Ayatollahs

Qom in Iran is one of the great centers of Shi'ite religious leadership, and though scholars based there are far from uniform, its milieu is highly sympathetic to Ayatollah Khomeini's doctrine of "Guardianship of the Jurisprudent" by which high-ranking religious scholars should directly supervise governments in Muslim lands.  The other Shi'ite center in Qom's league is Najaf in Iraq, where people are more hostile to Khomeinism and favor little if any direct clerical intervention in politics.  Iran has been trying to use its influence with the Iraqi government to promote Khomeinism among Najafi scholars, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has allowed Iranian ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi to open a Najaf office.  Fadel al-Kifaee sees this as about the Baghdad-Tehran relationship and not a swipe from the pirme minister at Najaf:
"Looking at the concessions that he has offered Tehran suggests that ignoring Najaf is more a tactical concession to Iran. Even though closer ties with Shahroudi are indeed important, the opening of his Najaf office will not have much of a practical impact on the established marjaiyya leadership there. The latter still have the socioeconomic sway and spiritual status to fend off any and all outside challengers—at least for the foreseeable future.
"Additionally, if al-Maliki were not certain that Shahroudi would be unable to, then he would never have granted him a foothold in Najaf to begin with; if the 'Iranian model' of a politicized clergy were allowed to flourish in Iraq’s Shia religious center, it would inevitably (and quickly) clash with Baghdad. Furthermore, piecemeal concessions to Tehran maintain the prime minister’s interim position while he awaits a third term...
"But marginalizing Najaf entirely would mean eroding al-Maliki’s own power in Baghdad. This is something that the prime minister must realize all too well; after all, the blessings of that city’s religious establishment are a crucial component of his own legitimacy."
Fair enough, certainly, but al-Maliki also might be trying to distract the Najaf scholars from moral criticisms of his own corrupt and autocratic government.  Tehran, however, would definitely like to start cutting in on the wealth and status of Najaf, which has many well-funded pious endowments, is an important burial site for Shi'ites, and has a thriving pilgrimage trade as the site of the grave of Ali, whom Shi'ites regard as the first imam, or rightful head of the Muslim community.

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Anonymous F. Al-Kifaee said...

I like that part when you put the recent policy of al-Maliki towards Najaf as a counter-attack to the continuous criticism by Sistani's representatives.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Brian Ulrich said...

Thanks! Though I thought that was something implicit in part of your piece.

7:52 PM  
Anonymous F K said...

Well, Mr. Ulrich, I had some concerns regarding the English version of my article and was worry that I failed to convey some of my ideas but thanks God it seems I deliver.

3:48 AM  

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