Rouhani meets Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Sistani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq’s Najaf on Wednesday in the first encounter between an Iranian president and the country’s chief Shiite cleric, AFP reported. Sistani called Iraqis to arms against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in 2014, giving rise to the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary alliance, which includes Iranian-backed Shiite groups. Those forces have since been placed under the command of regular Iraqi forces. Sistani, who rejects foreign influence in Iraq, is a spiritual leader to most of Iraq’s Shiites and some in Iran. He heads the religious establishment of Najaf, a Shiite holy city in Iraq that rivals Iran’s Qom. In 2013, the octogenarian leader refused to meet then-president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.