Saturday, May 12, 2012

Hard-line Iranian government official being positioned to succeed Iraq's top spiritual leader

During the 2008 Presidential debates, then-Senator Barack Obama stated that Iran would have an important role to play in Iraq after the U.S. military withdrew from the country.

Proclaiming that he would be willing to meet, without precondition, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, Obama went on to say: "I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them [the aforementioned leaders]. We’ve been talking about Iraq -- one of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they’re going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses. They have been acting irresponsibly up until this point. But if we tell them that we are not going to be a permanent occupying force, we are in a position to say that they are going to have to carry some weight, in terms of stabilizing the region."

As incredible as this may seem, the prospect of Iran ultimately expanding its influence in Iran was not viewed as problematic in Obama's eyes. Quite the contrary, he actually desired such a scenario. Hence, it's safe to assume that the following news item will most certainly gladden his heart:
Iran, the world's largest Shia nation, is pushing a Tehran-based hard-line cleric Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi to become Iraq's next supreme spiritual leader, heightening fears in the Gulf.

Shahroudi, 63, is being positioned to succeed Iraq's top spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, triggering fears in an already shaky region that Iran's long-term goal is to transplant its Islamic Revolution to Iraq...

Iraqi-born Shahroudi has spent most of career leading the Iranian judiciary and remains a top government official [there]...

With Iranian financing, Shahroudi [via his representatives] has for months been building a patronage network across Iraq, underwriting scholarships for students and distributing information.
The New York Times notes that "the move has raised fears that Iran is trying to extend its already extensive influence in the political and economic life of Iraq. A recent visit by Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to Tehran, where he met with Ayatollah Shahroudi, raised tensions further" and only strengthened fears that Shahroudi is being positioned to succeed the elderly and frail al-Sistani as Iraq's next spiritual leader.

The New York Times also notes that "Shahroudi was a student of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979, whom he describes in the biography as 'the biggest blessing on the believers in this age.' "

However, it's important to note, as Obama pointed out in 2008, that an expansion of Iranian influence inside Iraq is actually a good thing, and it could only have a stabilizing effect on Iraq's fledgling government and on the country at large. Hence, the prospect of Mr. Shahroudi succeeding al-Sistani as Iraq's next spiritual leader is, without doubt, a most comforting prospect..... Ahem....

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