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Maliki talks elections with cleric Sistani

  |   Jan. 5, 2010 at 6:12 PM
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NAJAF, Iraq, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to the Shiite holy city of Najaf on Tuesday to discuss election preparations with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Sistani holds considerable influence over Iraqi political developments, though he avoids direct involvement in formal affairs.

Maliki said in the wake of the visit that the cleric supported the March parliamentary elections and called on leaders to avoid exploiting public sentiment as the campaign season gets under way, Iraq's al-Sumaria news service reports.

Shiite lawmakers in Iraq followed the cleric's recommendation that parliamentary ballots feature the names of the candidates running for office rather than a closed system listing only political slates. That ballot amendment cleared the way for a law sanctioning the vote, though the date was pushed back three months from January to March because of political deliberations.

Sistani during meetings with U.N. officials in 2009 called on the Iraqi people to embrace the political process as the country emerged from years of violence.

Maliki during his meeting with Sistani said his State of Law coalition would join forces with the Shiite National Iraqi Alliance slate to compete in March elections.

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