Obama Sent a Secret Letter to Iraq’s Top Shiite Cleric

President Obama has sent a letter to Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, urging him to prevail upon Iraq’s squabbling politicians to finally form a new government, an individual briefed by relatives of the reclusive religious leader said Thursday.

The individual, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the information came from members of Sistani’s family in the Iranian holy city of Qom, where Sistani maintains a large complex of seminaries, libraries, clinics, and other humanitarian organizations.

¬†Iraqi factions have sought in vain since the March 7 parliamentary elections to agree on a government to replace that of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The impasse is of increasing concern to the United States as it draws down its forces to 50,000 and relinquishes a combat role at the end of this month. There have been a number of violent incidents in Iraq in recent weeks including bombings and shootings that have raised questions about the country’s future stability. (Fifteen Iraqis died Thursday; 53 were killed on Wednesday, according to media reports.)


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