Iraq's top Shiite cleric al-Sistani says growing challenges require a political consensus

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Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called upon political leaders not to "cling" to their posts at the cost of political stability.

"The gravity of the phase Iraq is undergoing requires the concerned parties to bear their national responsibilities, which require sacrifice and not to cling to posts," al-Sistani said in a statement read by his spokesman Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie at Friday prayers.

The speech did not name specific leaders.

Last month, al-Sistani called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki through an intermediary to step aside in the face of a crisis sparked by the lightning advance by Sunni militants, according to a senior member of a prominent Shiite family that has for decades maintained regular contact with al-Sistani. Al-Maliki is currently seeking a third four-year term.