Sheikh Ali al-Najafi, spokesman for his father Grand Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafi (portrait), speaks to an AFP journalist during an interview on July 14, 2014 in the Iraqi shrine city of Najaf. AFP PHOTO / HAIDAR HAMDANI
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The removal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would be an "important part" of the solution to Iraq's political crisis, a spokesman for one of the country's top Shiite clerics said.The statement is the first from any of Iraq's revered Shiite religious leaders to endorse Maliki's ouster, and is one of a string of recent announcements indicating a more active national role for the usually taciturn clergy.Sistani had earlier issued a call to arms against ISIS insurgents, the first such fatwa for jihad by the senior Shiite religious scholars in Iraq for more than 90 years, despite decades of war and bloodshed.In the past, senior Shiite religious figures have been circumspect and remained aloof from Iraq's graft-ridden and dysfunctional political arena.Government troops and allied Shiite volunteer fighters retreated from Tikrit before sunset on Tuesday to a base 4 km south after coming under heavy mortar and sniper fire, a soldier who fought in the battle said.
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