Iran’s Religious Surge in Iraq

Recent reports that Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, is being promoted as a possible successor to the aging spiritual leader for Iraqi Shiites, Ayatollah Sistani. Posters of Sharoudi are popping up in Sadr City and his presence is growing in the holy city of Najaf as well. If Shahroudi indeed takes over for Sistani, it would mark a major step in Iranian influence over Iraq. Sistani hails from the “quietest” school of Shiite Islam, while Shahroudi was trained in Qom, is Iranian, and closely linked with Iran’s religious elites. In addition, Shahroudi is seen as in touch with the newly encouraged and energized Shiite generation that currently rules Iraq. Although admired by many, Sistani is symbolic with previous generations of subjugated Iraqi Shiites and generally not in line with Iran’s politicized Islam. Shahroudi’s rise is indicative of both Iran’s ambitions to push its version of Islam within Iraq and is of one example of their strategy to do so.

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