Shiite Political Differences widen Gap between Najaf, Qom

By Ali Mamouri for Al Monitor. Any views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

Amid the reform protests taking place in Baghdad, political differences between Shiite clerics interested in Iraqi affairs have been widening in the two cities of Qom and Najaf.

While controversial cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement, continues to support the demonstrations that significantly sparked these Shiite differences, Shiite clerics based in Qom have issued fatwas condemning the protests and saying that they would lead to a devastating mess.

The most recent demonstration took place Feb. 17 in Baghdad and in other Shiite provinces in southern Iraq. On Feb. 11, five protesters were killed and 320 were injured in Baghdad. Other Shiite clerics close to the Iranian regime also issued fatwas against the protests in Iraq, such as Kazem al-Haeri and Sheikh Mahdi Asefi.

Kamal Al-Haidari, a high-ranking cleric close to the Iranian regime, said during his religious lectures Feb. 16, “My religious and political position is that institutional reform cannot take place through begging in the streets,” and that “reform should only be brought about through constitutional and legal institutions.”

Meanwhile, the Sadrists sharply responded to his statements by accusing him of unfairness, lack of impartiality and unawareness of Iraqi affairs. Saleh Mohammed al-Iraqi, a close associate of the Sadrist movement leader and an occasional spokesman of his, launched a scathing attack on Haidari, describing him as unauthorized and lacking expertise and fairness in opinion regarding the protests and the calls for reform.

“If you are to give your opinion about a certain topic, you should be fair, and you should be following the related developments. You cannot live in Qom and interfere in the affairs of Najaf,” Iraqi said.

This is a clear indication that the escalating dispute between Sadr and Haidari falls within the context of the different views of Qom and Najaf. The dispute is originally over the relationship between the religion and the state, and it started when some Shiite authorities in Qom led the Iranian Revolution against the Shah and got deeply involved in the details of the country’s political affairs at a time when Najaf kept a clear distance from politics and the government altogether — even after it was offered a chance to rule after 2003.

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