Shia clerics in Iraq stand up to Iran

It is interesting to note that the change of heart is affecting not just young Iraqis but also preachers and scholars from outside the political circles.
Sunday 03/11/2019
A change of heart. Shia clerics and religious students take part in anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq, October 29. (AFP)
A change of heart. Shia clerics and religious students take part in anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq, October 29. (AFP)

The recognised Shia religious authorities in Najaf, Iraq, are four: Ali al-Sistani (Iranian), Muhammad Saeed al-Hakim (Iraqi), Bashir al-Najafi (Pakistani) and Ishaq Fayyad (Afghani). Calls to support the protesters in Iraq came from other Shia clerics from outside this circle of four.

Grand Ayatollah Hassan al-Moussawi posted an anti-Iran and anti-velayat-e faqih message titled “A Message to Ali Khamenei” in which he asked the Iranian supreme leader to leave Iraq alone, stop looting its wealth and stop supporting the militias.

Moussawi explained that Iraq is not like other countries, for it rejects all forms of Iranian hegemony. He said the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 had left deep wounds in Iraqi hearts and that the religious parties that had been fighting with Iran had no popular bases in Iraq and, were it not for Iran’s direct support, those parties would not have any legitimacy to dispose of Iraqi blood and wealth.

We know Moussawi’s message to Khamenei was the same that Khamenei received from Iraqi protesters a few years ago when they chanted “Iran out, out.” There is no doubt that Iran’s vanity and arrogance in Iraq, thanks to its armed proxy militias, are in decline.

The Iranians were shocked to discover that the popular rejection of Iranian hegemony in Iraq was coming from none other than Shias first and foremost. They were shocked because they had taken it for granted that any land inhabited by Shias belonged to the Iranians and is naturally under the mandate of the supreme leader of all Shias, Khamenei.

This explains the brutality of the Iranian reaction to protests in Iraq — sending masked snipers and other militia thugs against unarmed protesters, the same repressive tactics used to suppress demonstrations in Syria in 2011. Obviously, the sniper in all these cases is Iran.

Shia Marja Kamal al-Haidari focused, in his declaration, on the ruling religious parties in Iraq and on the unprecedented level of corruption. He stressed that the religious parties had failed by being accomplices to the spread of poverty, underdevelopment, chaos and armed groups in Iraq.

Like Moussawi, Haidari does not seem fond of velayat-e faqih even though he did not name it in his speech, in which he praised the protesters and encouraged them. His avoidance of referring by name to the religious establishment in Iran may be because Haidari resides in the holy Iranian city of Qom.

If Moussawi is not well known among Shias, Haidari is a full-fledged star. His sermons and lectures are all over YouTube. He clearly disagrees with the establishment in Tehran on many points of jurisprudence and even on the fundamental issue of the imamat. He rejects as unreliable 17 of the 19 foundational Hadiths of the Shia doctrine and, without explicitly saying it, he must be renouncing the dogma of velayat-e faqih. This is no trivial matter because in Shia ideology the velayat-e faqih is the deputy of the absent and expected Imam al-Mahdi.

Haidari explicitly rejects the authority of religious parties and the rampant corruption in Iraq, calling on the parties to relinquish power and amend the electoral law that established the dictatorship of those parties.

Ayatollah Fadhil al-Maliki has been against Iraqi politics and foreign domination, whether Iranian or American, since the beginning of the new regime (2003). He did not return to live in Iraq. At every Iraqi vote, he called for the election of the most impartial and experienced candidates or to prohibit the elections altogether. Maliki is an influential preacher and an accomplished orator, known for his sophisticated style and language. Still, he does not have as many followers as other Shia marja.

Maliki is one of very few clerics who reject the institution of the marja and its direct intervention in politics, by supporting the rule of the religious parties. However, he, too, refrained from directly naming it in his support message to the demonstrators. Nevertheless, he clearly alluded to it when he openly rejected the slogan set by the marja to justify its members’ appointment to major positions and that is “an experienced person should not be tested.”

Perhaps the strongest sermon that preceded the demonstrations was the Friday sermon given by Khudair al-Husseini at Al-Shuyukh Market. Husseini is in the habit of carrying his death shroud around his head, just like Muhammad Mahdi al-Khalis, who died in 1963, and Muhammad Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr, who was assassinated in 1999. His speech was at the height of revolutionary incitement against all religious parties. He named the parties and groups in his speech, most preachers refer to them through generalities.

Husseini blamed the Badr, Sa’iroun, State of Law and Hikma parties for the deteriorating situation in Iraq, insisting that he does not exclude any of them.

However, we heard news that Husseini had been demoted from his rank as a Friday preacher. He is said to belong to the Sadrist movement, as evidenced by him saying “I am afraid you, too, support the government” and mentioned Al-Ahrar and Sa’iroun. Al-Ahrar is the Sadrist bloc in parliament and Sa’iroun is the general electoral bloc of the Sadrists and other groups, including the Iraqi Communist Party.

What is striking is that none of these clerics could be seen at the demonstrations in Baghdad and the other districts. Most of the demonstrators were people born in the mid- and late-1990s.

What can be concluded from the support speeches they received from Shia scholars and their condemnation of the sniper operations that killed more than 150 young Iraqis is that there is an Iraqi renaissance after years of sectarian stagnation.

The change of heart is affecting not just Iraqi youth but also preachers and scholars, from outside the political circles, of course. It is not important if their participation is confined to their offices or their pulpits. The important thing is that they are on board the uprising wagon.