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Iraq Needs A New Government, Leading Shiite Cleric Says

Iraqi Shiites perform the Friday prayer in the shrine city of Karbala in central Iraq. Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called for the country's next government to be "effective" and avoid past mistakes, in an implicit criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Mohammed Sawaf AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi Shiites perform the Friday prayer in the shrine city of Karbala in central Iraq. Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called for the country's next government to be "effective" and avoid past mistakes, in an implicit criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

As Iraq struggles to cope with rapid advances by the extremist Sunni militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the religious leader of the nation's Shiites says it's time for a new government to take over.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's comments Friday add to criticisms of embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Sistani spoke after results of Iraq's parliamentary elections were officially ratified. Maliki, who's been in office since 2006, has come under increasing criticism from within both Iraq and the U.S. that he has failed to unite Iraq's two sects of Islam into a nation along with its Kurdish minority.

On Friday, Sistani and other Shiite leaders urged parliament to meet and move the country forward.

The AP quotes the cleric:

" 'It is necessary for the winning political blocs to start a dialogue that yields an effective government that enjoys broad national support, avoids past mistakes and opens new horizons toward a better future for all Iraqis,' al-Sisanti said in a message delivered by his representative Ahmed al-Safi in the holy city of Karbala."

Sistani also said that ISIS fighters must be expelled. Iraq is reportedly mounting a military response to the group, which has taken over several key cities in northern Iraq, plundering banks and seeking control of large oil refineries along the way.

From Reuters:

"A source close to Maliki told Reuters that the government planned to hit back now that it had halted the advance which saw [ISIS] seize the main northern city of Mosul, capital of Nineveh province, 10 days ago and sweep down along the Sunni-populated Tigris valley toward Baghdad as the U.S.-trained army crumbled."

On Thursday, President Obama announced the U.S. won't be sending combat troops to help the Iraqis — instead, up to 300 military advisers will be sent to Iraq to help coordinate its efforts and share intelligence.

"The prime minister has sought to regain the initiative against ISIS militants, firing top commanders, ordering reserve officers back to duty," NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Erbil, Iraq. "Iraqi state TV broadcasts call for volunteers to join the fight against terrorists."

But Amos also says experts are warning that a military response alone will not end the unrest.

"It was not only ISIS that took over a third of Iraq's territory over the past week; this is not a monolithic organization," political analyst Ali Khadary tells Amos. "ISIS is part of an alliance of Sunni groups challenging the government with different aims. It would be a tremendous strategic mistake to consider it one grouping."

Khadary, who has advised U.S. ambassadors and commanders in Iraq, says the Maliki government must address the political grievances of Sunni groups to defuse the situation.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/

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