Shiite Cleric Warns of Iraqi Suspicion of U.S.

Iraqis are becoming suspicious of coalition forces because no elections have been held since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a senior Shiite Muslim (search) cleric warned Friday.

Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi al-Modaresi said the March invasion of Iraq was supposed to promote democracy. But "seven months have passed and there hasn't been one serious election," al-Modaresi said in a statement from his office in the southern holy city of Karbala (search).

Many Shiite clerics have been calling for nationwide elections to choose delegates to a convention to draft a new constitution. Iraq's majority Shiites are eager to wield power after years of oppression during the rule of former President Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim.

U.S. officials have objected to such a vote for fear it would drag out the process of drawing up a constitution, in turn delaying the transfer of power to a democratic leadership — an urgent goal for Washington with coalition forces increasingly under attack.

Al-Modaresi said that despite promises of democracy, the coalition established all major institutions without consulting the voters.

"Coalition forces have chosen the Governing Council, distributed ministries the same wrong way and did not hold elections for the provincial councils. They (coalition forces) chose them randomly and for this reason many Iraqi are suspicious about the intentions of these forces," al-Modaresi said.

U.S.-led occupation authorities appointed a 25-member Iraqi Governing Council (search) on July 13. Shiites got 13 seats on the panel, made up mostly of former opposition leaders. The council named a Cabinet on Sept. 1. Coalition forces have supervised elections for city councils but voting was limited to organizations such as professional societies.

Al-Modaresi warned against a military solution to the security crisis in Iraq. U.S. forces have stepped up their campaign against insurgents after attacks killed more than 50 coalition forces this month.

"The military solution will make the crisis worse," the cleric said without elaborating.

Al-Modaresi is one of the few Shiite clerics in Iraq who hold the title Grand Ayatollah, the highest rank a Shiite religious person can attain. A strong critic of Saddam, he spent long years in exile before heading back home in April shortly after the collapse of the Baath Party regime.

His statement came as Washington considered ways of speeding up the transfer of power to an Iraqi-led government.

The Bush administration is proposing elections in the first half of next year and formation of a government before a constitution is written, a senior U.S. official said in Washington. In the past, the administration insisted that Iraqi leaders write a constitution and hold elections before the occupying power begins shifting power to Iraqis.

"We advise the coalition forces, that rescued Iraq from terrible dictatorship, to offer these people (Iraqis), who suffered under the former regime, a real democracy," al-Modaresi said.