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Al-Sistani, believed to be 86, lives in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, where he rarely ventures out of his modest house. But his voice is powerful: His call to arms last week prompted tens of thousands of Shiites to volunteer to fight against the Sunni militants.
Notably, Soleimani, the Iranian general, met for two hours with al-Sistani’s powerful son, Mohammed Reda, in Najaf, the Shiite politicians said.
The list of potential candidates that Soleimani is carrying includes Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a French-educated economist who has served as vice president; Bayan Jabr, a former finance and interior minister under al-Maliki; and former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the politicians said. But al-Maliki may insist that, if he goes, another figure from his State of the Law bloc get the post, giving him a continuing influence, they said.
The United States is pressing for parliament to act quickly on forming the new government, a process that took nine months in 2010. "Our concern will increase with every passing day" that the timetable is not met, a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussions over the Iraqi political process.
Iraq’s vice president called on the new parliament to convene Tuesday, when, under the constitution, its first step will be to elect a speaker. It then has 30 days to elect a new president, replacing ailing Kurdish politician Jalal Talabani, who has held the post for two terms and is ineligible for another. The president’s job will likely go to Kurdish politician Barham Saleh, a former deputy prime minister.
The president will have 15 days to mandate the head of parliament’s largest bloc to form a new government. That prime minister-designate will then have 30 days to put together a coalition.
The frequent discovery in recent weeks of bullet-riddled bodies dumped on the streets has raised the specter of a return of sectarian warfare.
On Thursday, authorities found eight men believed to be Sunnis in their 30s and 40s who had been shot to death in Mahmoudiya, a volatile town about 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Bagdad, police and hospital officials said.
Then, shortly before sunset, a bomb exploded near a clothing shop in Baghdad’s northern Shiite neighborhood of Kazimiyah, killing 12 people and wounding 32, authorities said.
In the north, Christians and Shiites have been crowding to sanctuary in the Kurdish autonomous zone, fleeing Islamic State assaults on their homes.
"They will kill every Shiite man, and they will burn every Shiite house," said one woman, identifying herself only by her first name, Huda, for her own safety.
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