Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (1930-) born in [[Mashhad], Iran,is the most respected Shi'a religious authority in Iraq. He did not take a direct role in the political process, although he would advise Iraqi, but not foreign participants. His advice often came through hist staff, especially his son, Muhammad Redha Sistani. Some government represeentatives, such as Mowaffaq Rubai'e, did have direct access.
He came from a long religious family; he began studying the Qur'an at age 5, started an more formal school at age 11, and, in 1947, went to Qom for advanced study. After three years in Qom, he returned to the holy cities of Najaf, Iraq, studying with Ayatollah al-Khoei and Sheikh Hussein al-Hilli. Appproximately 1962, he was granted the status of a mujtahid], with special expertise in the study of the traditions of the Prophet, Shi'a Imamms, and the discipline of Ilm al-rijal: the biographies of the recorders of religious traditions and sayings.
In 1987, al-Khoei made him leader of the Kadra Mosque in Madrid, until it was closed by the Baa'th in 1993 and he went under house arrest. These endorsements, sufferings, and certifications gave him unparalleled credibility.