Top Iraqi Cleric Endorses New Government

Throwing his tacit endorsement to Iraq's new interim government, the country's most influential Shiite cleric said Thursday he hoped the new leaders would work to erase "all traces" of the American-run occupation.

"It is hoped that this government will prove its efficiency and integrity and show resolve to carry out the enormous tasks that rest on its shoulders," Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani (search) said in a statement released by his office.

Al-Sistani also said that the new government, appointed Tuesday by a U.N. envoy, lacks the "legitimacy of elections" and does not represent "in an acceptable manner all segments of Iraqi society and political forces."

U.S. officials have made it clear they fully intend to turn over control of the country to the interim government on June 30, but they also intend to continue supporting a stable — and friendly — Iraq into the future.

"We're not going to impose ourselves on anybody. We form a partnership," Dan Senor (search), spokesman for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (search), told Fox News. "The Iraqi government and the U.S. government have a common goal in Iraq — to defeat terrorists and build democracy."

Al-Sistani's opposition to the government would have severely undermined its credibility because of the cleric's influence among Iraq's Shiite majority, believed to comprise about 60 percent of the country's 25 million people.

Al-Sistani's objections to U.S. policy in Iraq effectively derailed at least two blueprints put forward by Washington to chart the political future of Iraq.

The cleric had demanded elections to choose the government to take power from the U.S.-run occupation at the end of this month, but dropped his insistence after U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi decided that an early ballot was not possible because of poor security.

Iraqis will choose a transitional government by the end of January and elect a new administration after ratification of the new constitution next year.

With the new government set to take over in weeks, al-Sistani said the main tasks were to secure Iraq's sovereignty, relieve the suffering of its people, restore security and prepare for the January elections.

"The new government should get a clear resolution from the U.N. Security Council restoring sovereignty to Iraqis — a full and complete sovereignty in all its political, economic, military and security forms and endeavor to erase all traces of the occupation," al-Sistani's statement said.

The United States and Britain have submitted a resolution to the Security Council laying down a blueprint for the transfer of sovereignty and seeking international endorsement. It does not spell out the interim government's sovereignty.

Many key council members have said they too want the resolution to fully detail the new government's power.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was in New York with instructions from the new interim government to discuss the text with the 15 members. He was scheduled to brief the council at an open meeting on Thursday afternoon.

Al-Sistani said the new government cannot win popular support unless it proves "through practical and clear steps" that it is sincerely trying to achieve those goals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.