Iraqi premier meets top Shiite cleric in Najaf
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki traveled to the southern city of Najaf on Thursday to meet Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Voices of Iraq (VOI) news agency reported, citing local officials, dpa reported.
The talks come amid further government discussions on a possible cabinet reshuffle and the ongoing crackdown against Shiite militias in Baghdad and the southern provinces.
However, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, told VOI that al-Sistani did not discuss issues related to the cabinet reshuffle.
"This issue is the responsibility of the Council of Representatives," al-Dabbagh said, referring to one of Iraq's elected parliamentary bodies. "Ayatollah al-Sistani does not put himself in the place of the representatives."
The spokesman said that the current security situation in Iraq was at the core of the meeting between al-Maliki and al-Sistani.
Al-Sistani, who lives in the holy city of Najaf, is a recluse who rarely makes public appearances. But he wields considerable political influence and has a spiritual authority over the country's Shiites.
Al-Sistani backs al-Maliki's Shiite United Iraqi Alliance but he also promotes national reconciliation and the integration of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority into the political process.
Al-Maliki is also currently conducting talks with the main Sunni bloc of the Iraqi Accord Front over its possible return to the cabinet.