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Aug 22, 7:46 AM EDT

Iraqi cleric urges leaders not to delay government

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BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric has called on the country's leaders to settle their differences in a "realistic and doable" manner and swiftly form a new government, amid a growing Sunni insurgency that threatens to break up the country.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani next government should be made up of candidates who care about "the country's future and its citizens" regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliations. Al-Sistani warned that that politicians' "demands and conditions could derail the forming of the new government."

The cleric's remarks were relayed by his representative, Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, during Friday prayers in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.

Iraq's premier-designate, Haider al-Abadi, has until Sept. 10 to submit a list of Cabinet members to parliament for approval but deadlines have often been broken because of political wrangling in Iraq.

Since early this year, Iraq has been facing an onslaught by the extremist Islamic State group and allied Sunni militants across much of the country's north and west. The crisis has worsened since June as the militant fighters swept through new towns in the north, killing dozens of people and displacing hundreds of thousands, mainly members of the minority Christian and Yazidi religious communities.

Al-Karbalaie also called for urgent aid to be airlifted to residents of a small Shiite town which has been besieged by Sunni militants in northern Iraq.

About 15,000 Shiite Turkmen in the town of Amrili have been suffering a tight siege and are lacking food and medical supplies. The town is located about 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of Baghdad.

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