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Iraq's top Shia cleric warns of election fraud

Iraq's top Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has warned of attempts to manipulate the parliamentary election results, his representative Sheikh Abdul Mahdi Al-Karbalai said on Friday. Iraqis went to the polls last week.

Al-Karbalai called on Iraqi officials to speed up the announcement of the results and to seek professionalism and honesty when counting the votes to prevent fraud, "for a better Iraq".

Meanwhile, Muqtada Al-Sadr warned of a Shia revolt in southern Iraq against Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki if he is declared to have won the election, claiming that Al-Maliki could only win through "manipulation of the figures and fraud".

Observers believe that the statements issued by the main Shia forces and religious authorities over the past few days mean that Al-Maliki will never continue as prime minister. Even if the State of Law coalition led by Al-Maliki wins the majority of seats in parliament, they believe, he needs to form alliances to remain as prime minister for a third term, which is highly unlikely and so he will lose naturally. "The other scenario would be that Al-Maliki does not win enough seats in parliament and will be forced out by victorious Shia forces."

The latter are expected to nominate four people to succeed Al-Maliki as prime minister, including the head of the Citizens Bloc, Baqir Al-Zubaidi, the leader of the Supreme Council, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the leader of the National Congress and the governor of Al-Amarah province.

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