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World Top Shia cleric backs Iraqi government in fight against Islamic State

People gather at the site of a car bomb attack in Kerbala, south of Baghdad, October 20, 2014. Five car bombs exploded in the Shi'ite shrine city of Kerbala, killing three people and wounding 27, a security official said.

STRINGER/IRAQ/REUTERS

Iraq's top Shia cleric on Monday gave his support to the new government battling the Islamic State group as militants unleashed a wave of deadly attacks on the country's majority Shia community, killing at least 43 people.

While there was no claim of responsibility for the attacks, they seemed likely calculated by the group to sow fear among Iraqis and keep pressure on the new Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who took office last month, met Monday with top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the southern city of Najaf. He said after their talks that Mr. al-Sistani welcomed the recent formation of the government that Mr. al-Abadi now leads.

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The spiritual leader wields considerable influence among Iraq's Shia majority, and the meeting carried symbolic significance because Mr. al-Sistani has shunned politicians in recent years to protest how they run the country.

"We have a long and hard mission ahead of us," Mr. al-Abadi told reporters after emerging from the meeting with the cleric, who is believed to be 86 years old. "One of the missions is related to security. We need arms and we need to reconstruct our security forces."

Mr. al-Sistani lives in the Shia holy city of Najaf, 160 kilometres south of Baghdad and rarely appears in public.

The day's attacks killed dozens in Baghdad and the Shia holy city of Karbala.

In the capital, the bomber blew himself up among Shia worshipers as they were leaving a mosque in a central commercial area after midday prayers Monday. That blast killed at least 17 people and wounded 28, a police officer said.

In Karbala, four separate car bombs went off simultaneously, killing at least 26 people and wounding 55, another police officer said. The city, about 90 kilometres south of Baghdad, is home to the tombs of two revered Shia imams and the site of year-round pilgrimages. The explosives-laden cars were parked in commercial areas and parking lots near government offices, the officer added.

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