Shia leader seeks end to political stalemate

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The Independent Online

The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shia Muslim majority said yesterday that the clergy-led United Iraqi Alliance must unite and form a government, one month after Iraq's first democratic elections.

The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shia Muslim majority said yesterday that the clergy-led United Iraqi Alliance must unite and form a government, one month after Iraq's first democratic elections.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's effort to break Iraq's deepening political impasse was made in the Shia holy city of Najaf. The Ayatollah appealed for unity among the alliance's 140 deputies after two of its leaders dropped out, protesting its inability to reach a deal with other parties - including the Kurds, who control 75 seats.

Meeting one of the alliance's few Sunni members, Sheik Fawaz al-Jarba, Mr al-Sistani asked him to inform the alliance "to unite and to form the new government as soon as possible and not to delay this issue any longer, and that the interests of Iraq and Iraqis should be their first priority".

Leaders of the Shia-dominated alliance met in Baghdad to find ways of convening the 275-member National Assembly. They have twice delayed convening the assembly, and that led Ali Hashim al-Youshaa and Abdul-Karim Mahmoud al-Mohammedawi, who heads the political group Hezbollah, to drop out. Dubbed "Prince of the Marshes", Mr al-Mohammedawi led resistance to Saddam in the southern marsh region.

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