The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
If you look at the website of Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s premier, it offers ample coverage of his two-day visit to Iran completed this week. One item is however not reported: His meeting with Mahmud Shahrudi, a member of the Iranian guardian council of Iraqi origin.
The meeting, which was covered by the Iranian news agency IRNA, was different from the string of other meetings held by Maliki in Tehran. Meetings with key Iranian leaders like Ahmadinejad, Jalili, Larijani and Khamenei could plausibly be construed as bilateral meetings between the Iraqi premier and key Iranian officials. Shahrudi, however, has a strictly domestic role in the Iranian government focused on internal power-broking. True, Shahrudi is in some ways an Iraqi exile living in Iran, but then again there are thousands of other Iraqis living in Iran with whom Maliki could have plausibly met.
Inevitably, the meeting between Maliki and Shahrudi will fuel speculation about the links between Maliki’s Daawa party and Shahrudi. Historically – and unlike other Iraqi Shiite Islamist parties – the Daawa has been reluctant to impose adherence to a particular Shiite cleric on its members, leaving this as an individual choice. However, since autumn 2011, rumours about a move by the Daawa to adopt Shahrudi as a collective marja have mushroomed. Indeed, at times this has been linked to a reported attempt by Shahrudi to establish a presence in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf with a view to contesting the successor struggle expected when the current leading cleric, Ali al-Sistani, passes away.