November 29, 2018 / 4:35 PM / 13 days ago

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric says yet to see progress under new prime minister

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric on Thursday said he had yet to see progress made under new Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who still does not have a full cabinet due to political wrangling six months after an election.

It was the first comment on the new administration by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who rarely intervenes in politics but is an influential figure in public opinion.

Sistani urged lawmakers and the government to work together to “improve the situation” in the country, adding that the government faced challenges including providing services to the people.

He made the remarks during a meeting with the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, Jan Kubis, according to Sistani’s website.

Political infighting is preventing the government from working towards rebuilding infrastructure wrecked by years of violence including a war against Islamic State, and reforming state institutions that critics say are paralysed by corruption.

Sistani has said before that the new government should not include officials accused of corruption or misuse of power, or officials who promote sectarian separation.

Lawmakers approved a partial cabinet for Abdul Mahdi last month after an election in May, leaving him with 14 ministers from a total 22 cabinet positions.

The crucial interior and defence ministries are among those still unfilled as rival blocs in parliament sharply disagree on proposed candidates.

A bloc led by populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr says ministers should not be people who are affiliated to political parties. Iran-backed rivals are insisting on their own candidate for the interior post, which is the key sticking point.

Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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