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Al-Sistani Condemns Coalition's Handling Of Iraq Violence, Calls For Calm

Al-Najaf, Iraq; 7 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has condemned the way the U.S.-led coalition is dealing with an upsurge of fighting between U.S. troops and insurgents in Iraq, and he called for calm on all sides.

A statement issued by al-Sistani's office in Al-Najaf today called for problems to be resolved peacefully, and for "abstaining from any provocative steps which will lead to more chaos and bloodshed."

Shi'a militiamen loyal to another cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, have been fighting U.S. and coalition troops in several Iraqi cities since 4 April. The fighting has left at least 150 people dead.

Al-Sistani is regarded as Iraq's most influential Shi'a cleric. His statement today did not refer to al-Sadr by name.