Iraq's top Shiite cleric backs early parliamentary elections

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric has thrown his support behind the prime minister’s announcement that parliamentary elections will be held ahead of schedule next year

It is also the first such meeting since al-Sistani, 90, underwent surgery for a fractured bone in January.

A new government will be formed by the politician who secures the most support from parliamentary blocs after the elections.

“Parliamentary elections scheduled for next year are very important,” said the Iran-born al-Sistani, who enjoys wide influence in Iraq and among Shiite Muslims worldwide. He said the vote should be held under fair conditions that give them credibility so that people are encouraged to participate.

The cleric warned that delays in holding the elections in a free and fair manner "will lead to deepening the country’s problems and reaching, God forbid, a point that would threaten its unity and the future of its people.”

Al-Sistani also called on the government to investigate major cases of corruption in the country and “to seriously work to reveal all those who committed criminal acts that killed and wounded protesters and security forces.”

According to the prime minister's office, some 560 protesters have been killed mostly by gunfire from Iraqi security forces. Al-Kadhimi has vowed to investigate their deaths.