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Aide To Iraq's Top Shi'ite Cleric Killed


13 January 2005 -- Armed assailants killed a representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric, along with the aide's son and four bodyguards.

An Iraqi Shi'ite cleric, Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer, said today the killing was an attempt to start a sectarian war before the 30 January elections.

"The main suspects in this case are the supporters of civil war, and by this I mean the dirty duet as represented by the Ba'ath gangs and the gangs following the Wahabi doctrine who cooperate to achieve their objectives," al-Sagheer said.

Al-Sistani has urged Iraqis to vote, but a number of political groups and religious leaders have called for postponing the poll over security concerns.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, speaking on Al-Arabiyah television today, said going forward to the elections was one way to end the 20-month-long insurgency.

In Paris today, interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir pledged the elections would be 100 percent free and honest.

U.S. officials yesterday said they did not expect the election to be "perfect" due to continuing violence in some areas, but said the poll should go ahead.

And U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said American troops will start leaving Iraq this year.

(Agencies)

For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".
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