Iran Has Controlled Iraq For Years. Now It May Be Pushed Out. | The Huffington Post

Iran Has Controlled Iraq For Years. Now It May Be Pushed Out. | The Huffington Post EDITION US عربي (Arabi) Australia Brasil Canada Deutschland España France Ελλάδα (Greece) India Italia 日本 (Japan) 한국 (Korea) Maghreb México Québec (En Francais) United Kingdom United States INFORM • INSPIRE • ENTERTAIN • EMPOWER NEWS WorldPost Highline Science Education Weird News Business TestKitchen Tech College Media POLITICS Pollster Election Results Eat the Press HuffPost Hill Candidate Confessional So That Happened ENTERTAINMENT Sports Comedy Celebrity Books Entertainment TV Arts + Culture WELLNESS Healthy Living Travel Style Taste Home Weddings Divorce Sleep GPS for the Soul WHAT'S WORKING Impact Green Good News Global Health VOICES Black Voices Latino Voices Women Fifty Religion Queer Voices Parents Teen College VIDEO ALL SECTIONS Arts + Culture Black Voices Books Business Candidate Confessional Celebrity College Comedy Crime Divorce Dolce Vita Eat the Press Education Election Results Entertainment Fifty Good News Green Healthy Living Highline Home Horoscopes HuffPost Data HuffPost Hill Impact Latino Voices Media Outspeak Parents Politics Pollster Queer Voices Religion Science Small Business So That Happened Sports Style Taste Tech Teen TestKitchen Travel TV Weddings Weird News Women WorldPost FEATURED GPS for the Soul Hawaii OWN Dr. Phil Quiet Revolution Talk to Me Don't Stress the Mess Endeavor Fearless Dreamers Generation Now Inspiration Generation Paving the Way The Power Of Humanity Sleep + Wellness What's Working: Purpose + Profit What's Working: Small Businesses POLITICS Iran Has Controlled Iraq For Years. Now It May Be Pushed Out. Iraq's top ayatollah and its prime minister are subtly challenging widespread Iranian influence. 09/06/2015 09:58 am ET | Updated Sep 07, 2015 Akbar Shahid Ahmed Foreign Affairs Reporter, The Huffington Post Ryan Grim Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post Credit: Haidar Hamdani/Getty Images Iraqi men take part in a demonstration to show their support for the call to arms by Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the central Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf on June 13, 2014.  WASHINGTON -- Iran has for years exerted tremendous influence over Iraq, turning it into essentially a Shiite-led client state under former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But a new protest movement in the country's Shiite-dominated south is a key sign that Tehran's power is waning, as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Maliki's U.S.-backed successor, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, make forceful moves to reclaim Iraqi independence.  Much of Iraq is no longer under the control of the central government in Baghdad. The Islamic State militant group rules large swathes of the Sunni region to the west, and Kurds control their own autonomous region in the northeast. In the Shiite-majority sections of Iraq, however, including Baghdad and the areas to its south and east, a political confrontation with Iran is underway just as the Islamic Republic is engaging the international community like never before through a historic nuclear agreement. Iraq watchers believe that a  popular protest movement  calling on Abadi to better handle public services and government corruption is a subtle indication that Iraqis want to beat back Iranian influence in their country. Sistani's position is a key indicator to follow, those watchers told The Huffington Post. U.S. officials have, in secret documents released in 2011 by Wikileaks, spoken of Sistani as the " greatest political roadblock " for Iranian operatives in Iraq. The Iranian-born ayatollah has unquestioned authority in Iraq and a very different approach to politics from his Iranian counterparts, disavowing their view of a theocratic government or "Wilayat al-Faqih," the rule of the Islamic jurist . Sistani is based in Najaf, the spiritual capital of the Shiite branch of Islam. After the Iranian revolution of 1979, influence over the global Shiite community shifted from Najaf to Iran's chief religious center of Qom -- in large part because Iraq was ruled by a Sunni minority regime led by Saddam Hussein. But following the U.S. invasion in 2003, power -- and what's thought to be millions in funds from religious tourism and Shiite devotees around the world -- began to flow back to Najaf, historically the more significant site. Sistani and Iran have had a fragile alliance in the years since, one that's been threatened recently because the Iraqi ayatollah has implied that he blames the Iranian client Maliki for losing ground to the Islamic State. An American source who has worked for years with the Iraqi government said that frustration with Iran helps to explain Sistani's groundbreaking decision last year to call up Shiite "volunteers" to join militias battling Islamic State forces. "One of the reasons Sistani called up the militias was to keep the Iranians out," the source told HuffPost. "He's also trying to push Iranians out of the governance structures