World Bulletin / News Desk
The most influential Shi'ite cleric in Iraq called on the country's leaders to choose a prime minister before parliament sits next week to begin forming a government.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who commands unswerving loyalty from many Shi'ites in Iraq and beyond, said political blocs should agree on the next premier, parliament speaker and president before the newly elected legislature meets on Tuesday.
Sistani's extraordinary intervention into politics forces the pace of a process that took nearly 10 months after Iraq's last election in 2010, and means the fate of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki - serving as caretaker after an election in April and battling to keep his job - could be decided within days.
The United States and other countries are pushing for a new, inclusive government to be formed as quickly as possible to counter the rebellion led by an offshoot of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Over the past fortnight, rebels have overrun most majority Sunni areas in north and western Iraq with little resistance, advancing to within an hour's drive of Baghdad.
Iraq's million-strong army, trained and equipped by the United States, largely evaporated in the north after the rebels launched their assault with the capture of the north's biggest city Mosul on June 10.
Thousands of Shi'ite Muslim volunteers have responded to an earlier call by Sistani for all Iraqis to rally behind the military to defeat the insurgents.
Under Iraq's governing system put in place after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the prime minister has always been a Shi'ite, the largely ceremonial president a Kurd and the speaker of parliament a Sunni.
Divvying up the three posts before parliament meets would require leaders from each of Iraq's three main ethnic and sectarian groups to commit to the political process and resolve their most pressing problems, including Maliki's fate.
"What is required of the political blocs is to agree on the three (posts) within the remaining days to this date," Sistani's representative said in a sermon on Friday, referring to Tuesday's constitutional deadline for parliament to meet.
Maliki, whose Shi'ite-led State of Law coalition won the most seats in the April election, had been positioning himself for a third term before the onslaught began. Some Shi'ite leaders have suggested he may be replaced with a less polarising figure, although his closest allies say he aims to stay.
Sunnis accuse Maliki of excluding them from power and repressing their sect, driving armed tribal groups to back the rebellion led by ISIL. The president of the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government of northern Iraq has also said Maliki should go.
Maliki allies said Sistani's call for a quick decision was not aimed at sidelining the premier, but at putting pressure on political parties not to drag out the process with infighting as the country risks disintegration.
Sunnis are divided among themselves over the speaker's post and the Kurds have yet to agree a candidate for president.Last Mod: 27 Haziran 2014, 17:24