Iraq's Shadow Ruler

When Ayatullah Sistani speaks, millions obey. Can the conscience of the nation make it safe for democracy?

The very name Sistani is shrouded in mystery. Few Westerners have ever met the most powerful man in Iraq. If they did, they would encounter a thin, bearded figure with little interest in the trappings of office. Grand Ayatullah Ali Husaini Sistani, the revered leader of the nation's 15 million Shi'ites, receives visitors, powerful and meek alike, in a plain, bare room in his modest home down a dusty alley in the holy city of Najaf. He sits on the floor with his back to the wall, dressed always in the same simple robe and turban. (An intimate says he hasn't...

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