RealNews

Iran, Iraq, and two Shiite visions

The Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala are back in business – teeming with thousands of pilgrims drawn from across the Middle East and Asia. After decades of persecution by Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Shiite resurgence in these two holy cities presents new opportunity – and a potential challenge – for the Shiite leadership in neighboring Iran. Amid preparations for pivotal elections Friday in Iran – and later this year in Iraq – analysts see two Shiite visions of democracy vying for dominance. Some say the traditionally “quietist” clergy represented by Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is growing more influential at the expense of Iran’s all-embracing system of clerical rule embodied by Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “There is a strong possibility that over time large numbers of lay religious Iranians will switch their allegiance to Sistani, and some of the [Iranian] reformers are said already to have done so,” says Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan and a specialist in Shiite affairs. “But the Khamenei establishment is extremely wealthy and offers scholarships, so the seminarians and clerics in Iran would have difficulty defecting en masse. Sistani does not have nearly as many monetary resources.” Full Story

OODA Analyst

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