As Iraq struggles to cope with rapid advances by the Sunni militant group ISIS, the religious leader of the nation's Shiites says it's time for an "effective" government to take over.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's comments Friday add to criticisms of embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Sistani spoke after results of Iraq's parliamentary elections were officially ratified. Maliki, who's been in office since 2006, has come under increasing criticism from the U.S. and within Iraq that he has failed to unite Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurdish minority into one nation.
On Friday, Sistani and other Shiite leaders urged the parliament to meet and move the country forward.
The Associated Press quotes a message from the cleric:
" 'It is necessary for the winning political blocs to start a dialogue that yields an effective government that enjoys broad national support, avoids past mistakes and opens new horizons toward a better future for all Iraqis,' al-Sisanti said in a message delivered by his representative Ahmed al-Safi in the holy city of Karbala."
Sistani also said that fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria must be expelled. Iraq is reportedly mounting a military response to the extremist group that has taken over several key cities in northern Iraq, plundering banks and seeking control of large oil refineries along the way.
"A source close to Maliki told Reuters that the government planned to hit back now that it had halted the advance which saw [ISIS] seize the main northern city of Mosul, capital of Nineveh province, 10 days ago and sweep down along the Sunni-populated Tigris valley toward Baghdad as the U.S.-trained army crumbled."
On Thursday, President Obama announced that the U.S. won't be sending combat troops to help the Iraqis — instead, up to 300 military advisers will be sent to Iraq to help coordinate its efforts and share intelligence.
"The prime minister has sought to regain the initiative against ISIS militants, firing top commanders, ordering reserve officers back to duty," NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Irbil, Iraq. "Iraqi state TV broadcasts call for volunteers to join the fight against terrorists."
But Deborah also says experts are warning that a military response alone will not end the unrest.
"It was not only ISIS that took over a third of Iraq's territory over the past week. This is not a monolithic organization," political analyst Ali Khedery tells Deborah. "ISIS is part of an alliance of Sunni groups challenging the government with different aims. It would be a tremendous strategic mistake to consider it one grouping."
Khedery, who is head of the Dubai-based consultancy Dragoman Partners and has advised U.S. ambassadors and commanders in Iraq, says the Maliki government must address the political grievances of Sunni groups to defuse the situation.