Iran Presses for Official to Be Next Leader of Shiites

(New York Times) Tim Arango - As the top spiritual leader in the Shiite Muslim world, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has championed Iraqi democracy and warned against Iranian-style clerical rule. Frail at 81, he still greets visitors at his home in Najaf, Iraq, only steps from the glimmering gold dome of the Imam Ali Shrine. But the jockeying to succeed him has begun, and Iran is positioning its own candidate for the post, a hard-line cleric who would give Tehran a direct line of influence over the Iraqi people, heightening fears that Iran's long-term goal is to transplant its Islamic Revolution to Iraq. Iran's candidate, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, 63, is an Iraqi-born cleric who led the Iranian judiciary for a decade and remains a top official in the government there. With Iranian financing, his representatives have for months been building a patronage network across Iraq. In Najaf, Shahroudi was a student of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution of 1979, whom he describes as "the biggest blessing on the believers in this age." When Shahroudi taught in Qum, one of his students was Hassan Nasrallah, now the leader of Hizbullah in Lebanon.

2012-05-14 00:00:00

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