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Originally published October 23, 2009 at 6:45 AM | Page modified October 24, 2009 at 1:07 AM

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Iraqi cleric's aide warns of chaos if vote delayed

A delay in the January parliamentary election could lead to chaos, a top aide to Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader warned Friday, as lawmakers remained deadlocked over legislation that would regulate the crucial national vote.

Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD —

A delay in the January parliamentary election could lead to chaos, a top aide to Iraq's Shiite spiritual leader warned Friday, as lawmakers remained deadlocked over legislation that would regulate the crucial national vote.

Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, the representative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Karbala, said the revered cleric wants elections - set for January 16 - to be held on time.

A delay in the balloting "will lead to political and constitutional vacuum and security chaos," al-Karbalaie said during his regular Friday sermon in Karbala's Imam Hussein mosque.

Iraqi lawmakers missed a deadline last week to approve new election guidelines for the January vote. The delay has worried many observers, including the United States, who fear that lack of political compromise could undermine Iraq's fragile stability and possibly affect the American troop withdrawal.

On Friday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice arrived to Baghdad for meetings with the country's top officials. It was not immediately clear if Rice discussed the election law dispute during her afternoon meeting with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama told al-Maliki in Washington that he was watching closely for the Iraqi parliament to pass the key legislation that will give candidates enough time to campaign for January's polling.

Obama also told al-Maliki he plans to hold to U.S. withdrawal plans that aim for a complete pullout by the end of 2011.

In Baghdad on Friday, a representative of the Shiite movement led by the anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr demanded a speedy withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Iraq, warning that the continued American presence could destabilize the country that has yet to recover from years of horrific sectarian violence.

Al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia bitterly fought the American and Iraqi forces in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion in 2003. In the past years, thousands of his followers and fighters have been detained during the Iraqi government's crackdown on militias.

Al-Sadr himself moved to Iran two years ago, leaving the once fearsome militia riveted with divisions and his popular political movement with weakened leadership.

In a message Friday, Moqtada al-Sadr demanded "an immediate departure of the American forces in order to preserve Iraq's safety, security and stability."

His message was delivered by his aide, Sheik Harith al-Idhari, during Friday's sermon in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City.

Thousands gathered in al-Sadr's largest Baghdad stronghold and in other southern Iraqi cities Friday to commemorate the death of al-Sadr's father Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr. He was gunned down by suspected Saddam Hussein agents in 1999 in the holy city of Najaf.

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