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Iraqi PM 'will not step down'

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has no intention of stepping aside despite mounting pressure from Sunnis, Kurds, some fellow Shi'ites and powerbroker Iran, aides said yesterday, although political deadlock is undermining efforts to fight insurgents.

Maliki, seen as an authoritarian figure with a sectarian agenda that has destabilised Iraq, has ruled in a caretaker capacity since an incomplete election in April.

A relative unknown when he came to office in 2006, Maliki said he would seek a third term, despite opposition from many sides, including crucial ally Iran, which, like Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, wants change.

"We have reached the conclusion that Maliki cannot preserve the unity of Iraq anymore but Ayatollah Sistani still has hopes. Now, Ayatollah Sistani also backs our view on Maliki," said a senior Iranian official.

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