Wednesday, March 29, 2006

U.S. appeals to Iraq's cleric (Sistani) to help end political impasse

BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. officials sent a message this week to Iraq's senior religious cleric asking that he help end the impasse over forming a new Iraqi government and strongly implying that the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jafaari, should withdraw his candidacy for re-election, according to American officials.

The unusual decision by the White House to reach out to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggested how eager the Bush administration is to jump-start negotiations that have failed to produce Iraq's first permanent postwar government more than three months after national elections.

But by contacting the revered Shiite Muslim leader, the administration risks further angering Iraqi leaders, who already complain that the United States is interfering too much with the process.
The administration's outreach to al-Sistani underscored how much Bush has at stake in ending Iraq's political stalemate, which has gone on for months as violence continues.

"What it reflects - we are, we're deeper into this process," the administration official said.

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