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Top Iraq Shiite cleric meets prime minister in sign of support for government's anti-IS fight

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BAGHDAD — 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.

PHOTO: In this Friday, Oct. 17, 2014 photo, Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters gather to defend the city of Haditha, 240 kilometers (150 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq is facing its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops, with the Islamic State extremist group in control of about a third of the country. (AP Photo)
In this Friday, Oct. 17, 2014 photo, Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters gather to defend the city of Haditha, 240 kilometers (150 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq is facing its worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops, with the Islamic State extremist group in control of about a third of the country. (AP Photo)

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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