Thursday, October 19, 2006
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki consulted with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani - Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader - and Muqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday in Najaf in a bid to enlist support for efforts to build political consensus and tackle widening sectarian violence. "I came (to see al-Sistani) so that the security and political situation can be stabilized, allowing the government to turn its attention to reconstruction," al-Maliki told reporters after his meeting with al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf.
Al-Sistani, who usually shuns the media, had no immediate comment, but the visit underscored the influence wielded by Iraq's top Shiite cleric on the government. Following a meeting between the two men in July, the Iranian-born al-Sistani issued a strongly worded statement that upbraided al-Maliki's government for its failure to provide security and services and fight corruption.
In comments to reporters, al-Sadr appeared to soften his opposition to plans by the Shiite bloc in parliament to introduce a federal system in Iraq that would allow provinces to join together in autonomous regions similar to the one established by the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991. Al-Sadr, like Sunni Arab politicians, had maintained that federalism could lead to the eventual breakup of Iraq. But on Wednesday he said the decision should be left to the Iraqi people to make.