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By Safa Haeri
Posted Tuesday, April 27, 2004

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PARIS, 27 Apr. (IPS) The unexpected, and somehow surprising return of hard line Ayatollah Kazem Ha’eri to Najaf might be the result of the fact finding mission an Iranian delegation that visited Baghdad recently, political analysts said Tuesday.

The delegation, led by an Iranian diplomat, was sent to Iraq on a suggestion from Britain to help ease the situation, particularly stopping Hojjatoleslam Moqtada Sadr, the young, turbulent cleric who, at the head of his so-called Mahdi Army, is battling against American forces in Iraq.

However, the mission returned to Tehran almost empty hand, following the assassination of an Iranian attaché in Baghdad by unidentified gunmen.

The Iraqi-born Ayatollah was in Iran in the past decades, following the massive crackdown on the Iraqi Shi’a by the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, now in prison somewhere in Iraq waiting his trial, immediately after the first Iraq war, when the Shi’ite population in southern Iraq, encouraged by the Iranian ayatollahs, rebelled against the dictator.

The return of Ayatollah Ha’eri to Najaf, the Shi’ite’s holiest cities now under the direct control of the Americans is important since he is both considered as the mentor of Mr. Sadr, and therefore responsible for his outbursts, menaces and military actions against the Americans as well as being a close friend of the leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i.

"In his position, the senior cleric can well harness Moqtada while looking after Iranian interests in Iraq, in a way, a continuation of the Iranian initiatives", commented one Iranian analyst, observing that Mr. Ha’eri is returning to Najaf at a time that heavy fighting rages between American forces with the Mahdi Army.

According to Iranian and Arab experts of the Iraqi scene, Moqtada is not supported by any of the Iraqi senior clerics like Ayatollah Ali Sistani nor by any leading political formations, such as the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SAIRI), considered as the largest, strongest and most popular of Iraqi religious and political organisations led by Hojjatoleslam Aziz al-Hakim, a member of the Iraqi Provisory Government.

"Rich with experiences he cumulated from the years he lived in Iran, Aziz does not intend to repeat mistakes made by the ruling Iranian ayatollahs. It is for this reason that SAIRI decided to join the American-installed IPG and established working relationship with other Iraqi political and religious parties, notably with the two leading Kurdish parties and the moderate Sunnis", said Mr. Ali Amini, an independent Iranian journalist and respected observer of the Iraqi affairs.

Informed sources said immediately after settling in Najaf, Mr. Ha’eri informed the other high-ranking Shi’a clerics that neither he nor Tehran supports Mr. Moqtada and his operations that, in his view, are "counterproductive".

Meanwhile, the internet news site Baztab close to the conservatives reported Tuesday that senior Iraqi clerics from Najaf and Karbala, in order to save the holy and sacred shrine of Ali, the Shi’ite’s first imam and his on Hussein (who is buried in Karbala) from possible "direct or collateral" damages, have urged Moqtada to stop his operations and leave Najaf.

"The same as Imam Hussein, in order to safeguard the sanctity of the House of God, decided to leave Mekka, knowing that be doing so he goes to his death, you should emulate him by leaving Najaf", the clerics wrote to Moqtada.

"Now that Sadr, despite the fact that due to the inequality of forces he and his army are doomed, insists on the continuation of his operations, we urge him to respect the sanctity of Najaf and Karbala and the holy shrines there by evacuating the Mahdi Army from holy cities of Najaf and Karbala and help preventing the attacks of the Coalition forces against these cities, causing the suffering of their inhabitants", Baztab added. ENDS IRAQ SADR 27404


Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, the influential head of Iran's conservative Council of Guardians (AFP PHOTO)


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