Top Iraq cleric still pressing elections

NAJAF, Iraq, June 3 (UPI) -- Iraq's leading cleric criticized the lack of national elections and said the new government's job is to erase "all traces" of the American occupation.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, has consistently pressed for national elections. In a statement on his Web site, Sistani blamed the election delay on "procrastination, delaying, dissent and terrorization."


Sistani said the appointed interim government lacks legitimacy and the process of choosing it excluded large swaths of Iraqi society.

"Nevertheless, it is hoped that this government will demonstrate its efficiency and integrity, and show resolve to carry out the enormous tasks that rest on its shoulders," he said.

Those tasks include, according to Sistani, getting a new U.N. resolution clearly granting Iraq sovereignty and control over the military, economy and political affairs; restoring security; preparing for elections, and restoring general services.

"The new government shall not win popular support unless it proves through practical steps that it sincerely and faithfully aspires towards the accomplishment of the above mentioned missions," Sistani said.

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