1 of 2
Hadi Mizban, File, Associated Press
FILE - This Dec. 3, 2011 file photo shows Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq. The prospect of the U.S. military returning to the fight in Iraq has turned congressional hawks into doves. Lawmakers who eagerly voted to authorize military force 12 years ago to oust Saddam Hussein and destroy weapons of mass destruction that were never found now harbor doubts that air strikes will turn back insurgents threatening Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government and Baghdad.

BAGHDAD — The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite majority has called for the creation of a new, "effective" government, increasing pressure on the country's premier as an offensive by Sunni militants rages on.

The call Friday by Gran Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani contained thinly veiled criticism that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, in office since 2006, was to blame for the nation's crisis over the blitz by the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Al-Sistani's message was delivered by his representative Ahmed al-Safi in the holy city of Karbala.

He said the future government "should open new horizons toward a better future for all Iraqis."

Al-Maliki's Shiite-led government long has faced criticism of discriminating against Iraq's Sunni and Kurdish populations.