Iraq: Shi'ite delegates ask for cleric's blessing

Delegates from seven Shi'ite parties that comprise the Iraqi parliament's largest voting bloc gathered in Najaf on Thursday to discuss the country's predicament in front of their holiest cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose word is considered binding by many Shi'ites. They sought al-Sistani's blessing for a governing coalition taking shape among Shi'ites, Kurds and one Sunni party - seen as a last-ditch effort at rare cooperation across the sectarian divide. Though al-Sistani will likely approve the deal, he fears the coalition could weaken the Shi'ite bloc, officials close to him said on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to the press about their leader's concerns.