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BAGHDAD — Iraq’s top Shiite cleric today called on political blocs to agree on the next prime minister before the newly elected parliament sits next week, stepping up pressure on political leaders to set aside their differences and form an inclusive government in the face of Sunni militants who have seized large swaths of territory.
The Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani also said he wanted the political blocs to agree on the next parliament speaker and president by the time the new legislature meets on Tuesday.
A cleric representing al-Sistani, Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, told worshippers today in a sermon at the holy city of Karbala that selecting the three before parliament meets would be a “prelude to the political solution that everyone seeks at the present.”
The urgency reflects the deep crisis in Iraq, after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and allied militants blitzed through the north and west this month, capturing vast swaths of territory, including the second-largest city, Mosul, and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit.
Iraq’s political leaders have been under growing pressure to form an inclusive government from the United States, Iraq’s main Western backer, which hopes such a government would diminish support for the militants among the disaffected Sunni minority.
The reclusive al-Sistani is the most revered figure among Iraq’s Shiites. A call up to arms he issued on June 13 prompted tens of thousands of Shiites to volunteer to join the security forces in the fight against the extremists.
However, asking the political blocs to agree on the nation’s three top jobs in four days may prove to be a tall order even at this time of crisis. Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders have been bickering among themselves for years, and it took them nine months to form a government after parliamentary elections in 2010.