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Iraqi PM Meets With Shi'ites to Quell Political Upheaval

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with the country's Shi'ite religious leader Wednesday to discuss a political impasse that resulted in half of his cabinet quitting. VOA's Jim Randle reports from northern Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to the holy city of Najaf to meet with the leader of Iraq 's Shi'ite majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Sistani sponsors the prime minister's ruling United Alliance.

Mr. Maliki later told reporters he sought Sistani's advice on filling empty ministerial posts and government reform.

Mr. Maliki said Sistani pushed him to solve the political, security and economic problems that plague the country.

One of the biggest groups in the United Alliance, the movement of radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, left the government in April protesting Mr. Maliki's refusal to set a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

The biggest Sunni Arab bloc in parliament, the Accordance Front, also pulled out its ministers, accusing Mr. Maliki of favoritism toward Shi'ites.

The walkouts have hurt efforts to resolve tensions between Iraq's Shi'ite and Sunni Arab communities and reach agreement on laws covering oil revenue and easing restrictions on former members of Saddam Hussein' s Ba'ath Party. Reaching compromises is seen in Washington as a key step toward national reconciliation.

Some prominent Democrats in Washington have said Mr. Maliki should be replaced, and he is under growing pressure to make political progress to match security gains in some areas of Iraq.

Meanwhile, a bomb blast in Baghdad's mostly Shi'ite Sadr City district was a reminder Wednesday that the military situation continues to be difficult. The attack killed at least 11 people and wounded about 20 others.

Police say the blast occurred in a crowded square as buses gathered to pick up passengers heading to work.