U.S. forces in Iraq have faced a bloody insurgency led by Sunni Muslims for months; on Sunday, nine coalition soldiers died in clashes with followers of a radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. However, the main leaders of the Shiite majority have urged their people to avoid violence.
Thirteen of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council's 25 members are Shiites, including current president Mohammed Bahr al-Ulloum (search), a cleric, and secular figures like Ahmad Chalabi (search).
A look at some of the main Shiite leaders in Iraq.
GRAND AYATOLLAH ALI AL-HUSSEINI AL-SISTANI:
The top Shiite cleric in Iraq, al-Sistani holds great influence over the Shiite community and has opposed anti-U.S. violence. Instead, he has used his popularity to sway the political process in ways that would ensure Shiite domination of a future government. Al-Sistani has criticized elements of the U.S. plans for handing power to the Iraqis on June 30, forcing the Americans to change their formulas.
The Iranian-born 75-year-old grand ayatollah, who speaks Arabic with a Persian accent, rarely leaves his home in the holy city of Najaf, where he heads the Hawza, the top Shiite seminary. Most clerics express their loyalty to him, as do many powerful Shiite tribes, which have sent armed men to guarantee his security.
A 30-year-old firebrand, al-Sadr has emerged as a popular leader among disenchanted and poor Shiites, particularly the young. In the chaos that followed Saddam Hussein's ouster, his followers established security and services in Sadr City (search), Baghdad's main Shiite neighborhood, and some parts of southern Iraq.
However, al-Sadr's erratic ways and youth have made many Shiites distrust him, and his relatively low clerical status — he bears the title "hojat al-islam" — gives his word less authority among Shiites than others in the hierarchy. His support is based in part on his heritage: He is the son of Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr (search), a grand ayatollah slain by Saddam's forces in 1999.
Muqtada al-Sadr has spoken out harshly against the U.S. occupation, at one point vowing to set up a government to rival the Governing Council. He is backed by his private militia, the Al-Mahdi Army (search).
A powerful member of the Governing Council, al-Hakim has allied himself with al-Sistani. He heads the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and opposed Saddam from exile in Iran before returning after the U.S. invasion.
Al-Hakim is backed by his organization's armed wing, the Iranian-trained Badr Brigade (search), which oversees security in several southern cities and around holy sites. His older brother, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim (search), was assassinated by a car bomb in Najaf last year.