Iraq has postponed a problem-plagued project for the holy city of Najaf to be the Arab world's Islamic Capital of Culture, the spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani said on Friday.
The announcement came after a spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafi, one of Iraq's top clerics, said the highest Shiite authority wanted the project postponed because of "financial and administrative corruption."
The Najaf celebrations had been part of efforts by Iraq to put the country back on the cultural map, after the US-led invasion of 2003 led to years of brutal sectarian war.
"The project of Najaf being the Islamic Capital of Culture has been postponed at the request of specific sides," spokesman Faisal Abdullah said, without providing further details.
Shahristani, the deputy premier for energy affairs, also heads the governmental committee responsible for the project.
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"Najaf has a supreme position. It needs loyal efforts and should be pure of financial and administrative corruption," his spokesman Ali al-Bashir told AFP.
He said that either the project should be postponed "until the completion of preparations (in) a suitable form for Najaf," or the marjaiya, the highest Shiite authority, "will not receive guests who participate in the project."
A statement on the project's website gave a different explanation, quoting the culture ministry's Aqil al-Mindalawi as saying it would be pushed back by four to six weeks because the opening ceremony conflicted with the March 29 Arab summit in Baghdad.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in an interview on Monday that the Najaf project faced difficulties.
"The preparation is not enough, and is not ready," Dabbagh said. "We are facing some difficulties and problems; we don't deny that we have problems."
Officials said in late September 2011 that several senior figures had pulled out of troubled plans for the Shiite shrine city to become the Islamic Capital of Culture for the Arab world.
Earlier, officials responsible for implementing the plans had admitted time was short, several projects were behind schedule and much of a half-billion-dollar budget had been hastily reallocated.