Cablegate: Blueblood Shia Cleric Comments On "Backward"

DE RUEHGB #0293/01 0311555
O 311555Z JAN 08




E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/09/2023


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Classified By: Political Counselor Matt Tueller for reasons 1.4 (b) and

1. (C) Summary: Scion of a prominent Najafi clerical family
and related to both Grand Ayatollah Sistani and Moqtada
al-Sadr, Emad Klanter told us January 30 that bumbling Iraqi
politicians fail to make progress of any sort but actively
encourage a public perception of "American Occupation"
through statements to vernacular media. He predicted Sadr
would extend his JAM militia freeze order beyond February,
and advised that we can change the "backward" Sadrists and
contain their movement but only if we adopt a more balanced
approach to their arch-enemy ISCI. Klanter pleaded for USG
pressure on the GOI and political blocs to hold early
provincial elections under an "open list" system, adding that
no one but the Sadrists and Sistani are eager for elections.
He claimed that his maternal uncle Sistani is alarmed by the
degree of Iranian penetration in Iraq and is frustrated by
his lack of indirect contact with the USG. Klanter warned
that only Sistani and the Marja'iyyah can stand up to Iran
and Shia extremism, adding that if the USG does not
strengthen Sistani, "Iran will devour Iraq." End Summary.

"Our Brains Are In Our Eyes"

2. (C) Son of a respected Najafi Ayatollah, nephew to Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, related by marriage to Muqtada
al-Sadr, and bearing a faint resemblance to the actor Robert
De Niro, Klanter is a direct descendant of the Prophet
Muhammad but was not wearing the traditional Shia Sayyid's
garb of black turban and cloak during our meeting at the IZ
villa of Saad Jabr, a Saddam-era exile opposition financier
and son of Iraq's first Shia Prime Minister. Claiming he had
recently met with Prime Minister Maliki, Klanter bemoaned the
ineffectuality of Iraq's political leaders and warned that
the gap between these leaders and the Iraqi people is growing
wider by the day. He stated that while Maliki might be able
to entice Iraqiyyah and Tawafuq to rejoin his government,
neither ISCI nor the Kurds want anything beyond superficial
changes to the status quo. When we informed him that USG
patience is wearing thin with the pace of Iraqi political
process, Klanter appeared incredulous that the U.S. would
even consider scaling-down in Iraq "because you destroyed a
regime and now you bear the responsibility to build up a
replacement. If you leave there is a 100 percent certainty
of civil war, which might happen anyway even if you don't
leave." Swinging his arms into an abbreviated "Gator Chomp"
type of gesture, he said that if the U.S, leaves "Iran will
swallow us whole."

3. (C) Small wonder that the Iraqi people feel as though they
are living under "American Occupation," Klanter maintained,
because Iraqi politicians - Shia, Sunni, and Kurds alike -
routinely use terms like "occupation" and "occupiers" when
referring to the USG presence in Iraq during interviews with
local media. The forty-something Shia cleric, who told us he
teaches religious classes in Najaf's traditional Shia
seminary (Hawzah) and also operates a media-oriented NGO,
defied us to name one Iraqi politician who has ever referred
to Americans as "friends" in local or Pan-Arab media. When
Iraqi politicians talk to Sistani and the Marja'iyyah, he
continued, "they blame you for all of Iraq's problems, even
their own failure to deliver public services." He chided the
USG for dealing exclusively with Iraq's political class and
ignoring contact with the Iraqi people. Employing an Iraqi
proverb that says "our brains are in our eyes", Klanter
exclaimed that Iraqis find it almost impossible to believe
news reports that the USG has spent billions of dollars in
Iraq "since we don't see any buildings or hospitals or
structures that you have built here." He chuckled softly
when we replied that the important thing is for the Iraqi
people to see the GOI constructing buildings and other
structures for their benefit.

Sadrist Insights and Elections

3. (C) Klanter, whose two brothers are reportedly married to
sisters of Moqtada al-Sadr and who claims to maintain good
relations with many senior Sadrists, said that Sadr will most
likely extend the freeze on his Jaysh al-Mehdi militia beyond
its scheduled expiration at the end of February.
Characterizing the education level and mentality of most
Sadrists as "backward, almost like they are from a cave,"
Klanter told us the USG can contain such people and change
their thinking by "sending them to the U.S. and exposing them
to new ideas." In reply to our rejoinder that we seek
cordial relations with Sadrists who wish to participate

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peacefully in Iraq's democratic future, Klanter replied that
"they hear you say this but then they look at your unbalanced
relationship with ISCI and they don't believe your words."
Klanter added gratuitously that, in his opinion, ISCI is more
dangerous than the Sadrists because it is fronting for Iran.
Conceding that some part of Sadr's movement is allied with
Iran, he said Moqtada remains popular because "even though he
is in Iran, we hear that he is constantly quarreling with the
Iranians." Jabr chimed in that the USG has unwittingly
driven Sadr into Tehran's arms.

4. (C) Klanter pleaded for USG pressure on the GOI and
political blocs to hold early provincial elections: such
pressure will be needed, he claimed, since no one but the
Sadrists and Grand Ayatollah Sistani are eager for elections.
Characterizing the 2005 "closed list" electoral system as a
failure, Klanter also urged us to push for an "open list"
system. He said the Sadrists can live with either an open or
closed list system "because they know they have a very loyal
base of popular support and they realize they will not be
able to attract other voters beyond that base." "Even though
I am a man of religion," Klanter asserted, "I don't support
religious political parties because they have been shown to
be a complete failure in Iraq and in Iran."

Frustrated Sistani Wants More Indirect USG Contact
--------------------------------------------- -----

5. (C) Repeating many of the points he made during a January
8 meeting and which he claimed were conveyed to him directly
by Sistani (Ref A), Klanter said Sistani's greatest fear is
the degree of Iranian penetration in Iraq. He claimed that
Sistani is in possession of detailed Iranian plans to
dominate Iraq's political, economic, and religious
institutions. Klanter added that Sistani wants to know what
the USG is planning to do about this (we note that we have
heard unsubstantiated reports that Klanter may have ties to
Iranian intelligence and is held at something like arm's
length by his maternal uncle Sistani). He said Sistani is
now more open to indirect contact with the USG than ever
before and is frustrated that previous emissaries were not
reliable: we pointed out to Klanter that Fouad Ajami and
Ahmad Chalabi, two claimed "emissaries" who Klanter cited by
name, are not carrying messages for the USG. He said
Sistani's failure to hear from the Americans is leading the
Grand Ayatollah to think that there might actually be some
merit to a circulating Iraqi public conspiracy theory that
the USG and Tehran have done a deal over Iraq. Klanter ended
the meeting by warning that only Sistani and the Marja'iyyah
can stand up to Iran and Shia extremism, adding that if the
USG does not support Sistani, "Iran will devour Iraq."


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