Iraq's Sistani calls for electoral reforms as three protesters killed

Top Shiite cleric says reforming electoral laws is only way to resolve crisis as three protesters killed in ongoing clashes with security forces in Baghdad.

BAGHDAD - Iraq's top Shiite Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Friday called on politicians to hurry up in reforming electoral laws and said the changes would be the only way to resolve weeks of deadly unrest.

"We affirm the importance of speeding up the passing of the electoral law and the electoral commission law because this represents the country moving past the big crisis," his representative said during a sermon in the holy city of Kerbala.

Sistani, who rarely weighs in on politics except in times of crisis, holds massive influence over public opinion in Shiite majority Iraq.

Meanwhile, three Iraqi protesters were killed and 25 wounded on Friday amid ongoing clashes with security forces near a strategic bridge in Baghdad, security and medical officials said.

The clashes come just hours after some of the most intense street altercations in recent days, which killed 10 protesters and injured over 100. Security forces used tear gas and live ammunition to repel demonstrators in clashes that lasted into Thursday night.

The officials said one protester was killed Friday by live ammunition, while the other two died because of tear gas. It was not immediately clear if they died from inhaling the gas or from a direct hit by a tear gas cannister, which has caused several other deaths in recent weeks. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Thursday’s clashes took place on Rasheed Street, a cultural center known for its old crumbling buildings. The street is close to Ahrar Bridge, a flashpoint in recent days. Protesters are partly occupying three Baghdad squares and parts of three bridges in a standoff with security forces.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shiite religious authority in Iraq, reemphasized calls to political parties to pass electoral reform laws and respond to the protesters’ demands. His comments were carried in his weekly sermon.

Iraq's massive anti-government protest movement erupted October 1 and quickly escalated into calls to sweep aside Iraq’s sectarian system.