Understanding the Most Powerful Man in Iraq

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The most powerful person in Iraq today, doesn’t hold any office in the new government. But that’s not to say that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani doesn’t wield any influence over the political process. As the senior Shiite cleric in that country, he is the religious leader for the majority of people in Iraq. But his teachings go well beyond the mosque.

During the recent elections, he issued a fatwa saying that voting is a religious obligation, leading to massive turnout among the Shiite community. And last year, when he argued against the wishes of the U.S., for direct elections in Iraq, thousands of Iraqis rallied to his side, and the U.S. backed down.

So far Sistani has been a moderating influence, pressing the democratic process forward. But how will his religious views translate into political architecture of a new Iraq?


Anthony Shadid, Washington Post Middle East correspondent

Juan Cole, Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan.