|Iraq Table of Contents
In 1964 Ayatollah Khomeini was expelled from Iran to Turkey, and he was then granted asylum by Iraq. His theological erudition and idealism earned him a significant following in An Najaf, where ulama (religious leaders) and students from throughout the Shia world formed an important circle of learned men. The Baath socialist regime, however, with its secular, anticlerical stance, was never comfortable with Shia religious leaders and their followers.
Relations between the Iraqi regime and the Shia clerics deteriorated during the Imam Husayn celebrations in February 1977, when police interference in religious processions resulted in massive antigovernment demonstrations in An Najaf and in Karbala. Several thousand participants were arrested, and eight Shia dignitaries, including five members of the clergy, were sentenced to death and were executed. In 1978, in an effort to quell the Shia unrest and to satisfy the shah's request, Baghdad expelled Ayatollah Khomeini, who sought refuge in France.
In another attempt to minimize Shia dissent, the Iraqi government had deported to Iran 60,000 Shias of Iranian origin in 1974. In the months following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Iraqi government deported nearly 35,000 more ethnic Iranians.
Deportations, the suppression of the Shia ulama, and the death under suspicious circumstances of Shia leader Imam Musa as Sadr all contributed to the deterioration of relations between Baathist Iraq and Islamic Iran. The ranking Shia religious leader, Sayyid Abu al Qasim al Khoi, refrained from either sanctioning or opposing the Baath government, but the government feared Sadr because of his leadership qualities and because of his close association with Khomeini.
Beginning in 1980, Iran actively promoted its own revolutionary vision for Iraq. All anti-Iraqi Islamic organizations, including Ad Dawah al Islamiyah, commonly called Ad Dawah and the Organization of Islamic Action were based in Tehran, where they came under the political, religious, and financial influence of the ruling clergy. To control rivalry and infighting among the different groups, Iran helped to set up the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI) on November 17, 1982. It was headed by Iraqi cleric Hujjat al Islam Muhammad Baqir al Hakim. Establishing SAIRI was viewed as a step toward unifying the political and military work of all groups and as an attempt to unite them under a single command directly supervised by their Iranian counterparts. In return, SAIRI acknowledged the leadership of Khomeini as the supreme commander of the Islamic nation. Nevertheless, the majority of Iraqi Shias resisted Tehran's control and remained loyal to Iraq.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress