The Catholic University of America

Prior to his address at the Columbus School of Law, Sheik Al-Getaa was greeted by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and currently a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Will Religion Determine the U.S. Outcome in Iraq?

As America struggles on in its multi-year effort to stabilize Iraqi society before beginning a major military withdrawal, its chances of success depend in no small part upon the standing of the United States within Iraq's Shia Islam clerical community, which wields great influence among the population.

Iraqi clerics, in turn, are under pressure from their counterparts in Iran to resist U.S. policy goals to the end.

The tangled relationship between Islamic religious leaders in both countries and what those connections might imply for the U.S. was explained at length on Oct. 29 at the Columbus School of Law by Shaykh Fatih Kashif Al-Getaa, a well-known Iraqi cleric from Najf.

Invited by the law school's Middle East Religious Dialogue Program to discuss the "Relationship Between Iran and the Marjaiyah of Najf," Sheik Al-Getaa began by retracing the history of the relationship between Shia clerics in Iran and Iraq before and during the rule of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

A well-known Iraqi moderate with specific interests in religious reconciliation and education, Sheik Al-Getaa offered a political assessment that may be cautiously reassuring to American policy-makers. The sheik stated his opinion that notwithstanding Iranian efforts, the clerics of Najf are not following the 'Iranian' law but rather their own understanding of Shia Islam.

"This was a report from the front, what actually is happening in southern Iraq, from

a person who is closely involved with the clerical community there," said Catholic University law professor Marshall Breger, co-director of the Middle East Religious Dialogue Program.

As a student and follower of Grand Ayatollah Sistari, Breger noted, the sheik was well-positioned to explain the complex politics of the Iraqi clerical establishment.

Sheik Al- Getaa heads the Al-Thagalyn Center for Strategic Studies in Najf and the Al-Kademia religious school in Baghdad.