BAGHDAD, July 24 U.N. Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon sought guidance from Iraq's top cleric on Thursday, as
he urged Iraqi politicians to form an inclusive government that
can confront a Sunni militant insurgency.
Ban's meeting with Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani
underscored the 83-year-old cleric's vast sway in Iraq, where
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is considered a polarising figure
who has fueled sectarian tensions.
A spokesman for Ban told Reuters the United Nations chief
was meeting with Sistani in the city of Najaf to seek his wisdom
on developments in Iraq.
Sistani has seized his most active role in politics in a
decade, asserting dominance over public affairs and demanding
politicians choose a new government without delay. His activism
could hastening the end of Maliki, who is accused of alienating
In a land where the army virtually collapsed in the face of
Sunni militants who swept through the north and west, and
sectarian militias are getting more powerful by the day, Sistani
is seen as a voice of reason and guiding light for millions.
Iraqi politicians have been struggling to form a power-
sharing government that can confront the Sunni militants who
seized large swathes of the north last month and are determined
to march on Baghdad. The lightning advance by the Islamic State
threatens to tear apart the country, a major OPEC oil producer.
After meeting with Maliki earlier in the day, Ban called on
Iraqi politicians to unite and create a government that serves
all sects in order to take on what he called an existential
threat from the insurgency.
Maliki has ruled since the election in a caretaker capacity,
defying demands from the Sunnis and Kurds that he step aside for
a less polarising figure. Even some Shi'ite politicians want
Maliki to go.
(Reporting by Michael Georgy; Editing by Larry King)