Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2006

Prime minister meets with Shiite clerics

October 19, 2006

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— Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki consulted with Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader and a radical, anti-U.S. cleric Wednesday in a bid to enlist support for efforts to build political consensus and tackle widening sectarian violence.

Al-Maliki's call on Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr came as the Shiite prime minister faces growing U.S. pressure to show more resolve in dealing with the daily carnage of sectarian bombings and attacks.

"I came (to see al-Sistani) so that the security and political situation can be stabilized, allowing the government to turn its attention to reconstruction," al-Maliki told reporters after his meeting with al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf.

Al-Maliki, whose more than four months in office have seen a marked deterioration in security, also sought to project the independence of his government from perceived U.S. influence.

"The Iraqi government is a government of national unity that came to power through the will of the Iraqi people," he said. "The Iraqi people are the only authorized party that can remove this government or allow it to continue."

Al-Maliki also called on al-Sadr, whose support was crucial to the prime minister's election to his job earlier this year.

Al-Sadr is the founder and leader of Iraq's most feared militia, the Mahdi Army, which is blamed for much of the sectarian violence in Iraq. His supporters, however, have 30 of parliament's 275 seats and are part of the Shiite alliance that won last December's general elections.

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