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Top Shi'ite Cleric Agrees to Delay in Iraq Poll

Iraq’s most revered Shi’ite cleric said on Thursday he would allow a longer delay before elections are held, reducing the risk that Washington’s plans for Iraq would be derailed by a row with majority Shi’ites. But Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said he wanted a United Nations guarantee that polls would be held by the end of 2004, a tough deadline given the difficulties of preparing for elections in the face of widespread instability and ravaged infrastructure. Sistani, who wields immense influence over Iraq’s 60 percent Shi’ite majority, had previously insisted that elections be held by June 30 to pick the Iraqi government due to take over sovereignty from the occupying powers on that date. But he eased his position after a United Nations mission that visited Iraq this month concluded it would take at least eight months to prepare the volatile country for polls. Washington’s plan envisaged elections by the end of 2005. Full Story

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