Sistani, Ali Husaini or Husayni [key], 1930–, Shiite grand ayatollah in Iraq, b. Mashhad, Iran. Educated in religious schools in his native Iran, he went to Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq, in 1952 to further his religious studies and ultimately settled there. During the 1990s he became head of the most important religious school network in Najaf and the acknowledged senior Shiite cleric in Iraq. A proponent of the traditionalist Shiite view that religious leaders should not in general be directly involved in national political life, he tacitly accepted the U.S. invasion of Iraq while criticizing aspects of the occupation and proposed constitution, and calling for a prompt return to Iraqi rule and democratic elections. Subsequently he was largely nonpolitical, but after significant Sunni Islamist successes in 2014 he made public calls for the defense of Iraq against the insurgency and for the quick formation of a new government, and later called for anticorruption measures and governmental reforms and condemned reliatory attacks by Shiite militants against Sunnis.
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