An Iraqi man holds a placard bearing a portrait of Shiite Muslim spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Basra on June 19, 2014
An Iraqi man holds a placard bearing a portrait of Shiite Muslim spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Basra on June 19, 2014 © Haidar Mohammed Ali - AFP/File
An Iraqi man holds a placard bearing a portrait of Shiite Muslim spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Basra on June 19, 2014
AFP
Last updated: July 11, 2014

Iraq's top Shiite cleric warns feuding politicians

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest religious authority for Iraq's Shiite majority, urged politicians Friday to stop quarrelling and avoid further delays in picking a new leadership.

In a sermon delivered by his representative in the holy Shiite city of Karbala, south of Baghdad, Sistani reiterated his appeal for Iraq's fractious politicians to unite in the face of a jihadist-led offensive that has plunged the country into its worst crisis in years.

"The current and future challenges and risks Iraq is facing... require all political blocs to adopt a brave, patriotic and honest stance," Sheikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai said, rendering Sistani's sermon during Friday prayers.

Parliament is due to meet on Sunday in a fresh bid to select a new speaker, president and prime minister -- jobs that according to an unofficial agreement are alloted to a Sunni Arab, Kurd and Shiite Arab respectively.

The previous session ended in chaos, with some deputies walking out after trading accusations over the month-old crisis sparked by the militant onslaught.

Sistani's sermon said the situation required parliament to be "respectful" and urged MPs "not to overrun constitutional deadlines more than it already has."

"We've always asked politicians appearing in the media to refrain from hateful speeches and mutual recrimination, which further complicate the situation, but unfortunately we find that some are continuing."

Sistani, an octogenarian who lives in the nearby holy city of Najaf, is revered within Iraq's Shiite majority and his stature dwarfs that of any single politician.

But Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite Arab and the leader of the religious party Dawa, has given limited attention to the cleric's appeals in recent days.

The premier has publicly lashed out at the Kurds for expanding their territory on the back of the jihadist onslaught and has also reneged on his vow not to seek a third term in office, despite being seen at home and abroad as an increasingly divisive figure.

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