Iraq’s top Shiite cleric backs early parliamentary elections

BAGHDAD – Iraq’s top Shiite cleric on Sunday threw his support behind the prime minister’s announcement that parliamentary elections will be held ahead of schedule next year, saying the timing should not serve the interests of political groups.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s comments came in a statement released by his office after a meeting with the U.N. envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. A photo released by al-Sistani’s office showed the black-turbaned cleric meeting with the U.N. envoy and an interpreter.

Sunday’s meeting was the first public face-to-face between al-Sistani and a foreign official since the spread of coronavirus in Iraq earlier this year. The country is one of the hardest-hit by the virus in the region, with nearly 300,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,900 deaths.

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

In August, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa

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