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  • 20 June 2014, 11:59

Iraq Needs New Leaders, Senior Shia Cleric Says

Iraq's senior Shia religious authority has called for a new government for the country as it struggles to stop Sunni militants seizing controls of towns across large areas of the country.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for the newly-elected parliament to start work without delay after the results of recent elections were ratified by Iraq's federal court.

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim, has come under pressure since Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgents took control of Mosul and began moving south towards Baghdad.

Ayatollah Sistani had previously called for Iraqis to join the fight against the militants.

Speaking in the shrine city of Karbala, his spokesman Abdul Mehdi al-Karbalai said the call to arms "was for all citizens, without specifying a religion".

"The goal was to get ready to face the takfiri group called ISIL, which now has the upper hand ... in what is happening in many provinces," he said, using an Arabic word that loosely translates as extremist.

Sky's foreign affairs editor Sam Kiley, in Baghdad, said: "Ali al-Sistani is not only a powerful Ayatollah but he is one of the great voices in the Shia faith.

"Maliki has got to move fast and he has got to incorporate Sunnis, something the Ayatollah has said frequently over the last few months" but now "the signs are that all of the pressure is on him".

Mr Sistani's remarks came after US President Barack OBama said the Iraqi prime minister needed to take urgent steps to heal the sectarian rift, but stopped short of calling for him to go, saying: "It's not our job to choose Iraq's leaders."

"Above all, Iraqi leaders must rise above their differences and come together around a political plan for Iraq's future," he said.

Mr Obama had been announcing that he would send 300 military advisers to Iraq to help the battle against the militants.

He said he was prepared to take "targeted" military action but stressed US troops, who withdrew from Iraq in 2011 after eight years, would not return to combat in the country.

US politicians have suggested that the assistance should be dependant on Mr Maliki stepping aside.

Sunni tribal chief Sheik Ali Hatem al Suleiman, the emir of the Sunni Dulaim tribe from Anbar province, said Mr Obama could no longer rely on Mr Maliki to deal with the insurgency.

"I think that most of President Obama's speech, but not all of it, was shallow and didn't address the heart of the matter," he said.

"It talked about participation, it talked about a national government, but you can't come to Iraq with a speech that doesn't address the truth of the problem.

"And the real problem in Iraq is al Maliki himself. I don't think Obama's speech addressed the reality of today's Iraq. You can't rely on him. The man has become paralysed."

Iran, meanwhile, has accused Mr Obama of lacking the "serious will" to fight terrorism after he declined to immediately meet an Iraqi request for airstrikes.

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