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Top Shiite cleric calls for new government in Iraq

Al-Sistani comments increase pressure on the prime minister.



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But he was adamant that U.S. troops would not be returning to combat.

Despite the deteriorating conditions, Obama has held off approving airstrikes sought by the Iraqi government. The president said he could still approve "targeted and precise" strikes if the situation on the ground required it, noting that the U.S. had stepped up intelligence gathering in Iraq to help identify potential targets.

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U.S. officials say manned and unmanned U.S. aircraft are now flying over Iraq 24 hours a day on intelligence collection missions.

Not all Shiites welcomed the announcement that more Americans were heading to Iraq.

A Shiite cleric, Nassir al-Saedi, warned that the 300 advisers would be attacked. Al-Saedi is loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia fought the Americans in at least two rounds of street warfare during their eight-year presence in Iraq.

"Our message to the occupier: ... We will be ready for you if you are back," he told a Friday sermon attended by al-Sadr supporters in Baghdad’s Sadr City district.

Mohammed al-Khalidi, a Sunni lawmaker who favors a replacing al-Maliki’s government with a more inclusive one involving Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, said he thought "Obama’s statement was balanced and reasonable."

"But," he added, "U.S. officials should be aware that the situation in Iraq needs an immediate remedy because Iraq is heading to the unknown."




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