Iraq`s top Shiite cleric urges peaceful transition
Baghdad: Iraq`s most influential Shiite cleric appealed to Iraqi politicians today not to make themselves "an obstacle" in the country`s transition as the deadline looms for selecting the next prime minister.
The remarks by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, delivered by his spokesman, were another indirect appeal by the cleric to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down.
"The big challenges facing Iraq require that the next government command national and broad acceptance...To face the crises that are hitting the country," spokesman Ahmed al-Safi quoted the reclusive al-Sistani as saying.
"No one should make himself an obstacle in achieving national consensus," al-Sifi added during the sermon in the southern Shiite city of Kabala.
Al-Maliki, who has led the country since 2006, has insisted he remain in the post for a third four-year term. His bloc got the most seats in April`s parliamentary elections but failed to get a majority, so he needs to build a coalition in order to govern.
The next government is expected to grapple with an unprecedented blitz offensive by Sunni extremists from the Islamic State group, which in June seized a large chunk of the country`s north and west.
Iraq`s leaders are under pressure to form an inclusive government that can draw Sunni support away from the insurgency.
But the Sunnis have long accused al-Maliki of marginalising their community, and even many of his Shiite and Kurdish allies say he has monopolised power.
Iraq`s newly-elected president, Fouad Massoum, is required to select a prime minister from the largest political bloc by next today.
Al-Sistani`s appeal came as the United Nations said that more than 1,737 people were killed in Iraq in July, making it one of the deadliest months of the year but marking a decline from the previous month, when the Islamic State militants swept across much of the country. The death toll in June stood at 2,400.
Still, July`s toll -- which included an increase in killings in areas now under the control of the Islamic State -- was considerably higher than May`s, when about 800 people were killed.
Al-Sistani denounced the targeting of holy sites today, saying Islamic State extremists are "alienating themselves from the humane, Islamic standards."
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