US embassy cable - 88BAGHDAD224

THE RELIGIOUS SUCCESSION IN IRAN

Identifier: 88BAGHDAD224
Wikileaks: View 88BAGHDAD224 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Baghdad
Created: 1988-01-15 06:09:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV SOCI IR IZ
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 150609Z JAN 88
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6069
AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI
INFO AMEMBASSY KUWAIT
AMEMBASSY RIYADH
AMEMBASSY MANAMA
AMEMBASSY DOHA
AMEMBASSY MUSCAT
AMEMBASSY PARIS
AMEMBASSY LONDON
AMEMBASSY SANAA
C O N F I D E N T I A L BAGHDAD 00224 
 
PASS TO CONGEN DUBAI 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL: OADR 
TAGS:  PGOV, SOCI, IR, IZ 
SUBJECT:  THE RELIGIOUS SUCCESSION IN IRAN 
 
REF:  ABU DHABI 137 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL -  ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
2.  AN ARAB BUSINESSMAN IN REFTEL SAID THAT GRAND 
AYATOLLAH KHOI'S RELATIVES IN IRAN ALLEGE THAT 
SEVENTY PERCENT OF IRANIAN SHI'A, AND ALMOST ALL 
IRAQI SHI'A, FOLLOW KHOI'S INTERPRETATION OF ISLAM. 
WE HAVE RECEIVED MUCH THE SAME VERSION FROM ONE OF 
KHOI'S SONS HERE.  WE ALSO RECALL EARLIER CONGEN 
DHAHRAN REPORTING THAT A SIMILAR PERCENTAGE OF SAUDI 
SHI'A ADHERE TO HIM. 
 
3.  WE TOO WOULD LIKE TO HAVE RELIABLE CONFIRMATION 
OF KHOI'S APPEAL IN IRAN.  WE ARE NOT SO SURE ABOUT 
CONGEN DUBAI'S ASSESSMENT THAT KHOI'S POSITION MAY 
HAVE BEEN ERODED IN IRAN.  AFTER ALL, KHOMEINI WAS 
IN NAJAF FOR FOURTEEN YEARS, WHICH DID NOTHING TO 
ERODE HIS STANDING IN IRAN.  KHOI HAS BEEN IN NAJAF 
FOR MOST OF THIS CENTURY, FOLLOWING A TRADITION OF 
IRANIAN AYATOLLAHS THAT GOES BACK TO 1722.  WE DOUBT, 
AS SUGGESTED BY REFTEL'S SOURCE,THAT KHOI HAS COME 
TO BAGHDAD OR THAT HE IS INVOLVED IN ANY WAY IN ANTI- 
KHOMEINI BROADCASTS.  ALTHOUGH HE IS CERTAINLY NO 
FRIEND OF KHOMEINI, WHOM HE CONSIDERS AN UPSTART 
WITH DUBIOUS RELIGIOUS CREDENTIALS, HE HAS STEAD- 
FASTLY REFUSED TO TAKE SIDES PUBLICLY ON THE WAR. 
 
4.  WHETHER KHOI IS ACTUALLY A THREAT TO MONTAZERI 
OR ANY OTHER POTENTIAL SUCCESSOR TO KHOMEINI IS 
ANOTHER MATTER, SINCE KHOI, WHO IS NOW AGED AND 
INFIRM, IS NO MORE POLITICALLY ORIENTED, WE UNDER- 
STAND, THAN GOLPAYEGANI.  KHOI HAS ALWAYS BEEN A 
STRONG PROPONENT OF THE QUIETIST SCHOOL OF AYATOL- 
LAHS WHO INSIST THAT CLERICS SHOULD STAY OUT OF 
GOVERNMENT.  UNLIKE KHOMEINI'S CASE, ALLEGIANCE TO 
KHOI'S RELIGIOUS INTERPRETATIONS DOES NOT NECESSARILY 
MEAN SUPPORT OF A POLITICAL NATURE.  THE ISSUE, AS 
REFTEL POINTED OUT, IS THAT THE LEGITIMACY OF A 
SUCCESSOR REGIME WILL DEPEND TO A MAJOR DEGREE ON 
THE PERCEPTION OF ITS RELIGIOUS CREDENTIALS. 
 
5.  ONE ISSUE OF PARTICULAR INTEREST TO US IS THE 
PRINCIPLE OF THE USULI SCHOOL OF TWELVER SHI'A 
ISLAM DOMINANT IN IRAN THAT RULINGS OF A CLERIC, 
NO MATTER HOW PROMINENT, LOSE THEIR VALIDITY WHEN 
HE DIES, ENTIRELY UNLIKE THE SUNNIS OR THE MINORITY 
TWELVER SCHOOL WHO HAVE A CORPUS OF CANON LAWS. 
IT IS FOR THIS REASON THAT IRAN HAS A CLERGY AND 
THE ARAB STATES DO NOT IN THE SAME SENSE.  WE 
WOULD THEREFORE EXPECT THE RULINGS OF KHOI, A 
VERY TRADITIONAL CLERIC, NOT TO OUTLIVE HIM. 
WHETHER KHOMEINI'S WILL IS THE QUESTION.  IF SO, 
HE WILL BE THE FIRST AYATOLLAH TO HAVE A "CALIPH"(SUCC 
ESSOR),  AND SHI'A ISLAM IN IRAN AND ITS ROLE IN 
THE COUNTRY WILL BE CHANGED IN A SIGNIFICANT WAY. 
 
 
NEWTON 

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