Khamenei appoints Ayatollah Shahroudi as “Guardian of the Jurists” for Iraq – Iranian sources
London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Iran appears to be wary of exacerbating the divisions within the Iraqi Shiite community, particularly with the impending withdrawal of US troops from the country. There are a number of sharp disputes and divisions within Iraq’s Shiite community, including disputes between the Iraqi Shiite religious authority that is based in the holy city of Najaf and led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the Iraqi government led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In addition to this, there are also a number of political divisions within the Iraqi Shiite community, including disputes between the “Islamic Dawa Party – Iraq Organization” leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari and al-Maliki, as well as the severe division between head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq [ISCI], Ammar al-Hakim, and Iraqi Minister of Transportation Hadi Al-Amiri, who heads the Badr Organization, which previously split from the ISCI.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, an Iranian dissident has revealed that Iran is seeking to increase its influence and control in Iraq, particularly in light of the imminent withdrawal of US troops from the country. The Iranian dissident claimed that Tehran has taken a number of decisions to secure its grip on neighboring Iraq, including intensifying its support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, courting Iraqi Shiite political leaders and parties, and most importantly appointing a senior Iranian Shiite cleric as the “Wali al-Faqih” or “Guardian of the Jurists” for Iraq, which is a move that would also serve to weaken the role of the Iraqi Shiite religious authority in Najaf – which is hostile to al-Maliki – by creating an alternative Shiite religious authority.
The Iranian source, who lives in Iran and has high-level contacts with the government there, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “due to the fact that the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is imminent…and the al-Maliki government today is the weakest it has ever been, [Iranian Supreme Leader] Ayatollah Khamenei has taken a number of decisions as an urgent pre-emptive plan to counter the prospective challenges to Iranian influence in Iraq” adding that “the most important information in this regard is that which has been received from inside the Iranian regime regarding the appointment of Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi as Wali al-Faqih [Guardian of the Jurists] for Iraq.”
The term Wali al-Faqih or Guardian of the Jurists refers to a theory in Shiite Islam that grants an Islamic Jurist custodianship over the people in the absence of an infallible Imam. Shiite clerics who support this theory disagree regarding the nature of this “custodianship”, however the Iranian Shiite understanding of this concept is for the jurist in question to have full authority over all matters, along the lines of the rule of Supreme Leader of Iran Grand Ayatollah Ali Khomeini and his successor Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Iranian source also referenced news broadcast by the Iraqi government-affiliated satellite “Al-Iraqiya TV” on 14 November, which announced that Hashemi Shahroudi would be relocating to Iraq, and establishing an office in Najaf. Al-Iraqiya TV” quoted sources that Ayatollah Shahroudi would not be supporting any Iraqi political group at the expense of another, and that he was not relocating to Iraq for the benefit of the Iraqi Shite community alone, but rather for all Iraqis, and that his major objective was to bring together all the people of Iraq. The report said that Shahroudi relocating to Najaf – home of the Shiite religious authority in Iraq – is in order to aid Iraq’s poor and orphans, as well as to help the people of the country mobilize and confront the perils of westernization. The Iranian source stressed that an Iranian cleric of the seniority of Grand Ayatollah Shahroudi relocating to Najaf is a decision that could only have occurred following coordination within Iran itself, as well as with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The Iranian dissident, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, drew parallels between this development and the intensification of disputes between the Shiite religious authority in Najaf and the Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki. He said “this visit [by Shahroudi] could not occur without being connected to the news that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has long refused to receive al-Maliki or any Iraqi government official, and that his representatives have taken strong stances against this [Iraqi] government and its corruption.” He added “for this reason, the Islamic Dawa Party has been trying for some time to come up with an alternative [Shiite] religious reference, who can establish himself against those who follow al-Sistani, like the ISCI and others.”
The Iranian source stressed that “based on the fact that Shahroudi’s relocation to Iraq is not just for the Shiite community, this represents clear evidence that Khamenei is determinedly planning to intervene on a broad-scale in Iraq. Khamenei, the leadership of the Qods Brigade, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have long been planning for the post-US withdrawal period in Iraq, and they are seeking to fill the vacuum this will create. After studying the events of recent years with regards to the Iranian-affiliated political trends in Iraq and their actions towards one another, they concluded that…there is a possibility that divisions and disputes will intensify under such circumstances, potentially reaching the point of clashes breaking out between these different Shiite groups and parties, leading to the collapse of the nominal alliance between them.”
The Iranian dissident said that “the Qods Force ultimately concluded that there were two options to this problem. One option would be periodically summoning the Iranian-affiliated [political] forces to Tehran in order to receive guidance” adding that “this references the presence of leaders from the Badr Organization, ISCI, National Reform Movement, Islamic Dawa party at the Ahl al-Bayt Assembly summit in Tehran, where all participants were briefed about the outline of the Iranian regime’s policies towards Iraq…before returning to Baghdad.”
The Iranian dissident then revealed that “the second option would be the permanent presence of one of the highest authorities of the Iranian regime in Iraq in order to closely control the Iraqi scene and work in a civil sense to overcome the divisions within the Iraqi Shiite community. For example everyone knows that the relations between the Badr Organization and the ISCI – not to mention the relations between [their leaders] Hadi Al-Amiri and Ammar al-Hakim – have deteriorated significantly, to the point that they refuse to even meet with one another other, whilst the relations between al-Jaafari and al-Maliki have not improved, but rather are deteriorating on a daily basis, and the appointment of Faleh al-Fayadh [Secretary-General of the Badr Organization] as Iraqi National Security Adviser or the appointment of al-Jaafari himself as leader of the National Alliance has failed to resolve the problem.”
He added “al-Jaafari believes that al-Maliki is using the National Alliance as a tool, reviewing its terms when he needs to, and that he [al-Maliki] will set it aside when he no longer needs it. Whilst many of those who are part of this alliance believe that it is nothing more than a name created as a result of Iranian efforts and pressure, lacking any real presence on the ground.”
The Iranian source also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “as for the issue of the division between the Islamic Dawa Party – Iraq Organization that is led by Khodair al-Khozaei and the Islamic Dawa Party led by Nouri al-Maliki, this did not end with the appointment of al-Khozaei as Iraqi Vice President, particularly as the Islamic Dawa Party – Iraq Organization has accused al-Maliki of not granting the party its electoral rights, and al-Khozaei has long sought to participate in the next elections independently, distancing himself from al-Maliki.”
The Iranian opposition source concluded his statement to Asharq Al-Awsat by stressing that “in this regard, in order to implement Khamenei’s intentions for Iraq…it is clear that they [the Iranians] have found that the solution is to send Shahroudi to Iraq, as a representative for Khamenei there.”
Grand Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi was born in Najaf, Iraq, in 1948, and was previously the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which later became the ISCI. He is listed as an Iraqi – Iranian politician, having practiced politics in both countries. He was appointed as the head of the Iranian Judiciary System in 2009 by Iranian Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In July 2011, Khamenei appointed Shahroudi to head an arbitration body to resolve a dispute between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian parliament.