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Iraqi Shiite clerics maintain humility, influence

The Shiite clerics of Najaf have always provided a spiritual reference to their followers, while at the same time playing an important role on various levels.
An Iraqi man and wife with child walk past a sign professing support for "Hawza," or Shiite religious leadership, 08 September 2003 in the holy city of Najaf, some 180 kms south of Baghdad. US President George W. Bush, in his first major speech on Iraq since May, urged the United Nations 07 September 2003 to overcome "past differences" over the US-led invasion of Iraq, appealing even to opponents of the war for troops and money.   AFP PHOTO/Karim SAHIB  (Photo credit should read KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images

NAJAF, Iraq — The house of Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani lies a few hundred meters from the shrine of Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib in Najaf in southern Iraq. It's located in a poor neighborhood in the Houeich area, which comprises old houses and small shops. Sistani's house is no different from others in the neighborhood, and security measures around it are low profile. If it were not for the line of men standing outside waiting to greet the cleric, no one would know that such a prominent figure lives there.

Sistani, 84, is the most widely acclaimed figure for Twelver Shiites, especially in Iraq, India, Pakistan and the Gulf states. However, there are other Shiite clerics in Najaf, other Iraqi cities, Iran and other countries with Shiite populations. Among these prominent clerics are Ayatollah Mohammad Saeed al-Hakim, Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Ishaq al-Fayyad and Ayatollah Sheikh Bashir al-Najafi.

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