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Viewing cable 09BAGHDAD11, NAJAF CLERICAL LEADERS FEAR IRANIAN IDEOLOGICAL

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD11 2009-01-05 11:11 2010-12-05 12:12 SECRET Embassy Baghdad
VZCZCXRO9693
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #0011/01 0051159
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 051159Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1100
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 000011 

SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/05/2028 
TAGS: PGOV PINS KISL IZ
SUBJECT: NAJAF CLERICAL LEADERS FEAR IRANIAN IDEOLOGICAL 
DOMINANCE 
 
Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Robert S. Ford for reasons 
1.4 (b) and (d) 
 
 1.  (S) SUMMARY.  Three well-placed contacts in the Shia 
holy city of Najaf told us December 27 that Iranian influence 
there is strong and that Ayatollah Muhammad Said al-Hakim, 
whose family has ties to Iran, likely will succeed the aging 
Ayatollah Sistani.  They each opined al-Hakim could begin 
changing the Najaf clerical establishment's long-time 
opposition to the concept of clerical rule (velayat-e faqih). 
One contact stated that the Najaf clerics have secured 
permission from the Iraqi government to start refusing to 
extend student visas for Iranians studying in Najaf in order 
to limit Iranian influence.  Like many clerics here, these 
contacts were keenly political and they obviously dislike and 
fear the ISCI political party.  They asked the U.S. to do 
more in Najaf to help limit the Islamic Supreme Council of 
Iraq (ISCI) and Iran but xxxxxxxxxxxxx was insistent this be done indirectly and 
with extreme caution.  END SUMMARY. 
 
 
------------------------------------------ 
Iran, ISCI Spreading Velayat-e Faqih in Najaf 
------------------------------------------ 
 
2.  (S) PMIN and Poloffs on December 27, 2008 discussed with 
contacts close to the Najaf hawza (seminary), Iranian 
influence in Najaf and hopes for U.S. assistance in combating 
those exposing velayat-e faqih (clerical rule).  XXXXXXXXXXXX
 
3.  (S) XXXXXXXXXXXX decried the Iranian government's attempt to 
directly and indirectly spread its influence in Najaf. 
During the debate in the Iraqi parliament about the U.S.-Iraq 
Security Agreement, XXXXXXXXXXXX said the Iranian Foreign Ministry 
and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp Qods Force commander 
Qasem Soleimani sent separate envoys to convince the 
marja'iya to speak against the agreement.  XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed 
that the marja'iya responded that it would be inappropriate 
for them to comment on a security/political issue as a way of 
dodging Iranian pressure.  XXXXXXXXXXXX also said Iran is giving 
money to Iranian students in the hawza, primarily through 
Supreme Leader Khamenei's office located in Najaf.  Iran 
generally disperses small amounts -- money for furniture or 
books, for example -- but recently gave a large sum to help a 
hawza student with his medical treatment, XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX said that through financing Shahid 
al-Mihrab (Martyrs of the Pulpit) -- the Islamic Supreme 
Council of Iraq's (ISCI) social and educational organization 
-- Iran aims to spread the popularity of velayat-e faqih. 
(Note.  Shahid al-Mihrab is led by Ammar al-Hakim, ISCI's 
heir apparent.  It is also the name ISCI is using nationwide 
for its provincial election coalition.  End note.) XXXXXXXXXXXX
said Shahid al-Mihrab must be receiving Iranian funding to be 
able to finance its wide network of offices in Iraq and 
abroad.  (Comment:  While driving through Najaf, PMIN noticed 
the construction of a large Shahid al-Mihrab complex at the 
1920 Revolution Square along the city's main East-West 
boulevard on property owned in 2003 by the now ISCI-dominated 
provincial government.) 
 
------------------------------------------ 
"Moderates" Unable to Compete With Iranian Money 
------------------------------------------ 
 
4.  (S)  XXXXXXXXXXXX said in response to alleged infiltration by 
Iranian intelligence, the hawza secured permission from the 

Iraqi government to stand up a committee to review residence 
permits of non-Iraqi students at Najaf's religious schools. 
  They have, he stated, allowed only the 
few Iranian students who were present before the U.S. 
invasion to continue their studies in Najaf.  Other Iranian 
students are not receiving renewals on their student 
residence permits and are being asked to leave Najaf when 
their permits expire. 
 
5.  (S)  XXXXXXXXXXXX did not make a particular pitch on 
politics aside from warning about Iranian influence.  By 
contrast, XXXXXXXXXXXxx -- who also favor the 
"quietist" clerical tradition of Sistani and Fayad -- were 
pessimistic about the chances of "moderates" in the upcoming 
elections because ISCI and Da'wa have been able to disperse 
government jobs and contracts to boost their support.  (Note. 
 XXXXXXXXXXXxx is a parliamentarian from former Prime Minister Ayad 
Allawi's party and Kalantar, given the alternatives, probably 
also supports Allawi.  End note.) 
 
BAGHDAD 00000011  002 OF 003 
 
 
 
6.  (S) XXXXXXXXXXXxx joked about ISCI's campaign slogan "With you, 
with you," by rhetorically asking "with who? Iran?"  When 
asked about ISCI's history in Najaf, XXXXXXXXXXXxx pointedly said 
ISCI had zero support prior to 2003 but were able to use its 
Iranian-origin militia, the Badr Corps (now Badr 
Organization), to gain power.  Despite switching its 
religious source of emulation to Sistani, XXXXXXXXXXXXX claimed 
his Badr Organization contacts still refer to the Iranian 
Supreme Leader as "Sayyid al-Wali" (the Master). 
 
------------------------------------------ 
Fears of Grand Ayatollah Hakim Succeeding Sistani 
------------------------------------------ 
 
7.  (S) Our three hawza contacts fear that Iran's push in 
Najaf coupled with ISCI's political dominance in the province 
are increasing the likelihood that Grand Ayatollah Muhammad 
Said al-Hakim will succeed Sistani as Iraq's lead cleric. 
Hakim -- a nephew to ISCI chairman Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim -- 
favors Iranian velayat-e faqih, all three contacts said. 
XXXXXXXXXXXXX claimed it was telling that Hakim last year told his 
followers to celebrate the festival marking the end of 
Ramadan (Eid al-Fitr) on the day announced by Iran's 
Khamenei, not Sistani.  XXXXXXXXXXXX was certain Hakim was now the 
probable replacement.  Rubai highlighted that fellow Najaf 
Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafi al-Pakistani has begun speaking in 
favor of Hakim, something he was not doing only a couple of 
years ago. XXXXXXXXXXXX  each claimed that al-Hakim 
and Sistani each give out relatively generous gifts of money 
to needy students and professors -- this is how one helps 
build influence, they observed.  By contrast, al-Najafi and 
Fayad have few resources for such gifts, they noted. 
 
------------------------------------- 
Seeking U.S. Support, But Carefully Done 
------------------------------------- 
 
8.  (S)XXXXXXXXXXXX  bluntly told PMIN the U.S. should, with a 
hidden hand, fund moderate hawza groups to counter ISCI and 
Iran.  However, XXXXXXXXXXXX said the United States regularly 
irritates the marja'iya by, for example, clumsily -- if only 
briefly -- detaining important clerical figures.  Perceived 
American protection of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) also 
raises questions about American judgment and intent, he 
claimed.  (He didn't argue when PMIN reviewed our policy on 
MEK but he said our position was not at all clear in Najaf.) 
XXXXXXXXXXXX added that U.S. officials releasing to the media the 
contents of private discussions between the Coalition 
Provisional Authority and top Najaf clerics had led the 
clerics to decide not to speak to the U.S. directly.  XXXXXXXXXXXxx
advised that the U.S. should not associate itself with ISCI 
cleric Jalal ad-Din al-Saghir because he is hostile to the 
Najaf hawza.  When asked how "moderate" groups planned to 
compete in the provincial and national elections in 2009, 
XXXXXXXXXXXxx clearly were defeatist and lacked a 
practical vision.  XXXXXXXXXXXxx fatalistically repeated that 
"there must be a (political) explosion" before Iraq rids 
itself of the religious parties. 
 
-------- 
Comment 
-------- 
 
9.  (S) Our meetings with XXXXXXXXXXXxx 
reflect a broad trend in Iraq: the disenchantment and 
disorganization of those Shia leaders who feel locked out of 
the political process and who feel ISCI and Da'wa have used 
their positions in government to write rules favorable to 
themselves.  Many Shia still believe ISCI is controlled by 
the Iranian government and that the Badr Organization wields 
power covertly in Iraq.  These Shia dismiss evidence that 
ISCI is becoming increasingly responsive to its Iraqi 
QISCI is becoming increasingly responsive to its Iraqi 
constituents and over the past few years have explicitly 
acted against Iranian interest -- for example, by supporting 
the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement. 
 
10.  (S) Comment continued.  The looming passing of Grand 
Ayatollah Sistani makes Najaf pivotal for Iraq's ideological 
future.  XXXXXXXXXXXxx is a long-time contact of ours and, XXXXXXXXXXXXX is well-placed to give us insights 
into the top clerics' thinking.  He was extremely nervous 
about being seen with PMIN and other American diplomats, 
insisting on doing the meeting in XXXXXXXXXXxx not Najaf.  His 
skittishness reminds of how cautious Sistani and the other 
ayatollahs are about being seen to meet with or collaborate 
with the Americans.  XXXXXXXXXXXxx was adamant that we should help 
contain Iranian influence in Najaf but that it had to be done 
indirectly by helping Iraqi organizations who themselves want 
to limit Iranian influence.  Overaggressive or direct U.S. 
involvement in Najaf's religious scene would, according to 
 
BAGHDAD 00000011  003 OF 003 
 
 
his analysis, backfire, undercutting those pro-American 
Iraqis walking a fine between religious purity and earthly 
power that could be derived from U.S. support.  If XXXXXXXXXXXxx 
analysis is correct, Iraqis (and to a lesser extent Iranians) 
will always be better placed than the U.S. to understand and 
work within the nuances of Najaf's religious society.  END 
COMMENT. 
CROCKER