Nowhere in Iraq is the silence about the Iranian election controversy more striking than in this city, the burial place of the founder of...

NAJAF, Iraq — Nowhere in Iraq is the silence about the Iranian election controversy more striking than in this city, the burial place of the founder of the Shiite sect of Islam and the faith’s theological center for hundreds of years.

Clerics and religious students here shy away from even admitting that they are watching broadcasts of the popular uprising next door, despite close ties to Iran; they study the same texts, follow similar courses of religious study and revere the same saints.

In the past 30 years, since the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the religious powers in the two countries have taken entirely different roads. Najaf’s clerics publicly rejected the idea promoted by Iran’s former supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that clerics have the final say over political matters.

As Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatens to use force to subdue protesters calling for an annulment of the election, Najaf’s senior clerics have said nothing.

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“The Hawsa are not interested in anything except what happens in Iraq,” said Mohammed Ridha al-Gouraifi, 56, an assistant in the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who emphasized that he was not speaking for the grand ayatollah.

Hawsa is the term for the students and teachers at religious schools based primarily in Najaf.

“We considered what happened in Iran as an internal affair,” he said. “The Hawsa will not meddle in the internal affairs of any country.”

Asked if that was to discourage other countries, especially Iran, from meddling in Iraqi politics, al-Gouraifi nodded. Iran is widely viewed as too involved in Iraqi politics, training and funding some of the most violent militias active here and having close ties particularly to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a political party organized in Iran.

Interviews with many other clerics found much the same view. Their silence is part religious philosophy and part political calculation, and both are colored by the fraught history between the two countries.

The distrust is deep. The legacy of the Iraq-Iran war, in which 1 million people died on each side, cemented ugly images of Iran in the minds of many Iraqis.

Staying quiet in the face of political strife is the reigning philosophy in Najaf and is known as quietism, or taquia, in Arabic.

The Shiite clergy’s silence during Saddam Hussein’s reign, even when it and its followers were arrested, tortured and killed, led some to charge that it was standing by as its people were persecuted.

One who took a slightly quieter stand was Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, the father of Muqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American cleric. Sadiq al-Sadr took the lead in using participation in the Friday Prayer as a symbol of protest against Saddam’s regime.