Iraq's top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said on Friday that an early election was the only way out of the current unrest gripping the country and a new government should be formed soon.
More than 450 people, mostly unarmed demonstrators but also some members of the security forces, have been killed since a wave of popular unrest began on Oct. 1. Protesters, most of them young, are demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty.
"The fastest and most peaceful way out of the current crisis, and avoiding the unknown or chaos or civil strife, is to go back to the people by holding an early election after legislating a fair electoral law," Sistani said.
Parliament failed on Wednesday to pass a new electoral law, a key demand of protesters, which would make elections fairer after votes in recent years have been marred by allegations of fraud.
"We hope that the formation of a new government is not delayed for long," Sistani said in a speech read out by a representative at a Friday sermon in the Shia holy city of Kerbala.
Deadlock in parliament also held up the selection of an interim prime minister, causing lawmakers to miss on Thursday the constitutional deadline to name a replacement for Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned last month but has remained in office in a caretaker capacity.