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New Iraq leaders get cleric's nod


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Revered: Sistani's endorsement is a boost for the new government.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most influential Shiite leader, has given tacit approval to the country's new U.N.-appointed interim government.

In a statement issued from his office in the holy city of Najaf on Thursday, Sistani noted the government lacked the "legitimacy" of elections.

"Still, it is hoped that the government will prove (its) efficiency and integrity, as well as ... its resolve to carry out the big tasks it has been assigned," Sistani said..

His endorsement gives a much-needed boost to the interim government, which takes over from the coalition on June 30.

The elderly, Iranian-born cleric, who holds huge sway over Iraq's 60 percent Shiite majority, urged the new government to get "a clear Security Council resolution enabling the Iraqis to restore full sovereignty" and work hard to end Iraq's occupation.

Sistani's statement listed four key tasks for the government to tackle: security, basic services for all, a new U.N. resolution; and organizing free and fair elections early next year.

The statement noted that Sistani "has repeatedly stressed that the government should be Iraqi and produced by free and fair elections in which all Iraqi people take part."

"However, for many reasons, the elections option has been excluded, and thus the new government has been formed without enjoying electoral legitimacy.

"Also, not all sectors of the Iraqi society and the country's political powers have been represented in the proper manner," Sistani said.

"The new government will not win people's acceptance unless it proved, thorough a clear process, that it seriously and honestly seeks to achieve the afore-mentioned tasks."

Sistani's statement comes as Iraq's interim foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, is in New York to meet the U.N. Security Council on a draft resolution on Iraq proposed by the United States and Britain.

"This is a very important resolution for us and, definitely, we need to have our own input into this," Zebari told reporters.

In Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said the draft resolution "still needs some hard work," according to Interfax.

The draft "does take into consideration some of the comments which Russia and other members of the U.N. Security Council have voiced, but not all," Fedotov said.

One of the key questions is the support for the interim Iraqi government within Iraq itself and the question of the government's legitimacy internationally, Fedotov said.

At least nine votes required

Any resolution on Iraq needs the support of at least nine members of the 15-nation Security Council and no veto from the five permanent members -- Russia, France, China, Britain and the United States.

The draft makes clear that Iraqi security forces will be under control of the Iraqi interim government.

It also gives a time frame for the mandate of multinational forces, saying it "shall expire upon completion of the political process" -- when a new Iraqi constitution and a freely elected government are in place.

U.S. officials expect that to happen by December 2005, the new text said.

However, the mandate could potentially "terminate" earlier "if requested by the elected transitional government of Iraq," the text adds.

This sharpens the language of the earlier draft resolution version, which simply said the mandate for the multinational force would be "reviewed" at the request of the government or 12 months from the date of the resolution.

CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.


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