Shi'ite worshipers place copies of the Quran on their heads during Ramadan at the Imam Ali Shrine, Najaf, Iraq July 10, 2015. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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In early September, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, a senior Iranian official and Islamic scholar, flew to the holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq. His entourage included a sizable security detail and the former head of the Revolutionary Guard, the most powerful military force in the Islamic Republic.Shahroudi, 69, spent several days on a charm offensive meeting officials, Shiite religious scholars and seminary students at his office near the golden dome shrine of Imam Ali, one of the world's holiest Shiite sites.His aim was to raise his profile as a replacement for the top Shiite religious scholar and most powerful man in Iraq, the 87-year-old Ayatollah Ali Sistani, according to current and former Iraqi officials.Iraqi Shiite factions are jockeying to influence who replaces Sistani.Iran, whose population is mostly Shiite, backs Shahroudi.Shahroudi could prove a controversial replacement for Sistani. A senior religious scholar in Najaf who is sympathetic to the interests of Iran would also eliminate a rival to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who claims to be the leader of Shiites worldwide.
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