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Oct 20, 4:23 AM EDT

Top Iraq Shiite cleric backs PM's fight against IS

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BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has met with the country's prime minister in a sign of support for his newly-formed government and its struggle against the Islamic State extremist group.

State TV says the meeting between the spiritual leader and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was underway Monday morning but provided no immediate details.

The meeting has symbolic significance because al-Sistani, believed to be 86 years old, has shunned all politicians in the past years in protest of the way they run the country.

Al-Sistani lives in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Baghdad, and rarely appears in public.

Al-Abadi's newly formed Cabinet is striving to push the Islamic State extremists out of the sprawling territory they have seized in recent months.

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