Cablegate: Karbala Religious Education: Preparatory Level

DE RUEHGB #3701/01 3291254
P 241254Z NOV 08



E.O. 12958: N/A


This cable is Sensitive but Unclassified; not for Internet

1. (U) Summary: Karbala has seven Islamic preparatory
academies, whose all-male students often go on to attend one
of the 21 religious schools comprising the Hawza, or seminary
center, in Najaf. The academies provide free education to
their students, some of whom also receive room and board.
Entry is competitive, although one of the academies
guarantees placement for boys whose families provide
substantial endowments. End Summary.

Shi'a Seven

2. (U) As an adjunct to our primer on the nature and
structure of Karbala's religious authority (ref A), we
provide the following report on religious education in the
province. We canvassed a variety of contacts, official and
unofficial, religious and secular, in its compilation. We
have eschewed sourcing attributions for the sake of brevity.

3. (U) There are seven Islamic preparatory academies in
Karbala Province. All are primary- or secondary-level
institutions that inculcate their exclusively male pupils
with the fundamentals of twelver-Shi'a Islam. Each school
was either founded by or is affiliated with an ayatollah or
other senior Iraqi Shi'a religious figure; all but one of the
latter are members of the Marja'iyah -- or theological
authority -- presided over by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
Graduates from these academies often, but not always, go on
to attend one of the 21 religious schools comprising the
Hawza (seminary center) in Najaf.


4. (U) The smallest and most prestigious of the seven
academies -- and consequently the most difficult to enter --
is the al-Husayniyah Kindergarten operated by al-Sistani's
Karbala office. It is the only one of the seven without
boarding facilities. Its 60 students come from the cream of
provincial society and almost always subsequently attend
religious boarding schools in Najaf. Although tuition is
free, wealthier parents are expected to contribute to a
scholarship fund that enables a handful of middle-class boys
(generally the sons of clerics) to attend the academy. Imam
of the al-Husayn Shrine Shaykh Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbala'i
formally is in charge but delegates day-to-day operations to
a headmaster.

5. (U) Second in prestige is the al-Abbasiyah Academy. As
with the remaining academies, it is a grades 1-10 school that
accepts Iraqi boys from all levels of society whose parents
are "good Muslims" and who demonstrate an aptitude for
religious study. Approximately 300 students attend,
two-thirds of whom are boarders. Funded entirely by
contributions to the al-Abbas Shrine, the academy is directed
by Ahmad Jawad Nour al-Safi, the shrine's imam.


6. (U) Four academies comprise the middle tier of religious
schools in Karbala. Less selective than the al-Husayniyah
Kindergarten and the al-Abbasiyah Academy, they are
tuition-free but permit parents of under-qualified boys to
enroll their sons on a probationary basis in consideration
for non-refundable endowments. The Sayyid al-Shaheed Academy
and the Faqih Husayn al-Sadr School are affiliated with
Ayatollah Husayn Isma'il al-Sadr, imam of the Mukhayam
Mosque, who also administers several of Najaf's 21 religious
schools. With nearly 500 students each, they are the largest
of the academies in Karbala. They also reputedly are the
most liberal in terms of doctrine; al-Sadr -- no relation to
Muqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters controlled the Mukhayam
Mosque during 2003-04 -- is known as a proponent of dialogue
and reconciliation.
Qand reconciliation.

7. (U) Karbala's Scientific Knowledge Academy is affiliated
with several religious schools in Najaf operating under the
auspices of the al-Shirazi Library, whose namesake --
Ayatollah Mohammad ibn Mahdi al-Shirazi -- died in 2001.
Many of its 267 students are Iraqis of Persian descent. It
is administered by Husayn al-Amri, director of the al-Shirazi
office in Karbala, under the supervision of Sadiq Husayni
al-Shirazi, the late Ayatollah's brother. The Imam al-Qa'im
Academy has approximately 375 students. Their studies are
supervised by Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi, who also

BAGHDAD 00003701 002 OF 002

runs at least one religious school in Najaf.

Bottom Rung

8. (SBU) Radical cleric Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi, who is
not a member of the Marja'iyah, established the al-Sarkhi
Islamic Institute in 2005. At 103 students, the academy is
Karbala's second-smallest. The poor reputation of its
founder makes it by far the least-prestigious, but admission
is guaranteed if parents provide hefty endowments.

9. (SBU) Formerly a student of Ayatollah Mohammad Sadiq
al-Sadr -- Muqtada's father, who was assassinated in Najaf in
1999 -- al-Sarkhi has alienated many here by claiming to have
communed with the Hidden Imam (ref B) and by asserting
theological preeminence over al-Sistani. His vociferous
opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq, criticisms of
Iranian influence, and condemnation of erstwhile ally Muqtada
also have drawn flak, while deadly clashes between his
now-defunct militia -- known as Husayn's Army -- and Iraqi
and coalition forces in 2006 produced warrants for his
arrest. Al-Sarkhi remains in hiding. The Institute is run
by his former spokesman, Haider al-Abadi, who is not the
Da'wa Party-affiliated Iraqi Council of Representatives
member of the same name.

10. (SBU) (Note: Although in hiding for the past three years,
on November 21 Sarkhi issued a strongly written fatwa urging
his followers to participate in the upcoming provincial
elections. End note.)

© Scoop Media

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