Religious edict seen as aiding embattled Iraq PM

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An influential Shiite Muslim cleric has issed a religious edict seen as undermining efforts to unseat Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, is facing mounting allegations from members of his broad unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that he is monopolizing power. His critics are trying to gather votes to bring him down with a no-confidence vote in parliament.

Among the prime minister's most vocal critics is Muqtada al-Sadr, an anti-American Shiite cleric. In a religious ruling published Sunday, al-Sadr's spiritual mentor, Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, said it is forbidden to vote for secular politicians in Iraq's government.

Al-Haeri, who lives in Iran, did not elaborate. Most of those trying to unseat al-Maliki are from secular groups.