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Originally published June 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 23, 2009 at 9:33 AM

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Clerics in Iraq hold tongues on Iranian uprising

Nowhere in Iraq is the silence about the Iranian election controversy more striking than in this city, the burial place of the founder of...

The New York Times

Other developments

Baghdad bombings: At least 24 Iraqis were killed and 78 were wounded Monday in the latest wave of violence sweeping the country, Iraqi police said. In Baghdad, there were five explosions Monday, including two car bombs in different parts of the city.

Afghanistan curbs: The new U.S. military commander in Afghanistan will limit the use of airstrikes in order to help cut down on civilian casualties, his chief spokesman said Monday.

Transport deal: A Russian news agency reported today that the U.S. and Kyrgyzstan have reached a deal for use of a Kyrgyz base to transport military supplies to Afghanistan. In February, Kyrgyzstan's president had stunned Washington by announcing that his country would evict U.S. forces from the Manas airbase.

Suicide bombing: A suicide bomber driving a motorcycle detonated his explosives near a densely crowded intersection in the eastern city of Khost on Monday, killing seven Afghan civilians and wounding 44, including seven children, officials said.

Pakistan fighting: Militants used mortars, rockets and an anti-aircraft gun to attack military positions in northwestern Pakistan on Monday and were pummeled in response by airstrikes that killed at least 25 people, officials said.

Taliban leader killed: A Taliban faction leader who criticized the militant group's Pakistani head was fatally shot today, reportedly by one of his own guards. The attack on Qari Zainuddin appeared to be a sign that divisions within the Taliban have broken into the open.

Seattle Times news services

NAJAF, Iraq — Nowhere in Iraq is the silence about the Iranian election controversy more striking than in this city, the burial place of the founder of the Shiite sect of Islam and the faith's theological center for hundreds of years.

Clerics and religious students here shy away from even admitting that they are watching broadcasts of the popular uprising next door, despite close ties to Iran; they study the same texts, follow similar courses of religious study and revere the same saints.

In the past 30 years, since the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the religious powers in the two countries have taken entirely different roads. Najaf's clerics publicly rejected the idea promoted by Iran's former supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that clerics have the final say over political matters.

As Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatens to use force to subdue protesters calling for an annulment of the election, Najaf's senior clerics have said nothing.

"The Hawsa are not interested in anything except what happens in Iraq," said Mohammed Ridha al-Gouraifi, 56, an assistant in the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who emphasized that he was not speaking for the grand ayatollah.

Hawsa is the term for the students and teachers at religious schools based primarily in Najaf.

"We considered what happened in Iran as an internal affair," he said. "The Hawsa will not meddle in the internal affairs of any country."

Asked if that was to discourage other countries, especially Iran, from meddling in Iraqi politics, al-Gouraifi nodded. Iran is widely viewed as too involved in Iraqi politics, training and funding some of the most violent militias active here and having close ties particularly to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a political party organized in Iran.

Interviews with many other clerics found much the same view. Their silence is part religious philosophy and part political calculation, and both are colored by the fraught history between the two countries.

The distrust is deep. The legacy of the Iraq-Iran war, in which 1 million people died on each side, cemented ugly images of Iran in the minds of many Iraqis.

Staying quiet in the face of political strife is the reigning philosophy in Najaf and is known as quietism, or taquia, in Arabic.

The Shiite clergy's silence during Saddam Hussein's reign, even when it and its followers were arrested, tortured and killed, led some to charge that it was standing by as its people were persecuted.

One who took a slightly quieter stand was Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, the father of Muqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric. Sadiq al-Sadr took the lead in using participation in the Friday Prayer as a symbol of protest against Saddam's regime.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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