Wednesday, June 30, 2004 / News / World / Iran's clerics could face challenge from Iraq / News / World / Iran's clerics could face challenge from Iraq: "Iran's clerics could face challenge from Iraq
By Parisa Hafezi, Reuters | June 30, 2004
TEHRAN -- The rise of a secular, democratic Iraq could pose a challenge to Iran's Shi'ite clerical establishment, which fears it would serve as a powerful model for moderate Iranians who seek change, clerics said.

Many senior clerics are particularly concerned about any shift in the center of gravity within Shi'ite Islam away from Iran's holy city of Qom, from where clerics wield immense political authority, toward Najaf in neighboring Iraq.
The emergence of Najaf coincides with the rise to political prominence of Iraqi clerics, such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who question the legitimacy of absolute rule by the clergy.
''Now Najaf, as a more moderate center, will regain the place it held for most of the past 1,500 years,' said Hadi Qabel, a reformist, mid-ranking cleric from Qom.
Monday's formal transfer of sovereignty represents a further opportunity for the rehabilitation of Iraq's Shi'ite community, which was brutally suppressed under Saddam Hussein.
Despite the prevailing view, many Qom clerics actually support the idea of a separation between mosque and state that some Iraqi clerics have suggested, Qabel said.
''If security returns to Iraq, many clerics from Qom and other cities which share the same beliefs will move to Najaf," he said.

Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi of Iran, also a moderate, believes Najaf's seminary will gain power. But he rejected the idea that it was a threat to Iran's theological centers: ''Even right now, there are different views in Qom seminaries and I do not believe it will cause a huge exodus of Qom clerics to Najaf."


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