The senior UN representative in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, said on Monday that the country's top Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani had made it clear to her that he supports the enactment of serious reforms over a reasonable time period.
Sistani, however, expressed concerns that Iraq's political elite were not serious enough about enacting reforms, Hennis-Plasschaert, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, said.
Protesters on the street "could not go home without sufficient results", Reuters quoted her as saying in a news conference after meeting the cleric in the city of Najaf.
Mass rallies calling for an overhaul of the ruling system have rocked the capital Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south since October 1 -- the largest and deadliest popular movement in Iraq in decades.
The bloody unrest has sparked serious concern from the UN, human rights groups and the White House, which on Sunday called on Baghdad "to halt the violence against protesters" and pass electoral reform.
After weeks of paralysis, Iraq's top leaders seem to have agreed to keep the system intact, but the UN in Iraq (UNAMI) urged them to enact a host of changes.
These include electoral reforms within two weeks, the prosecution of those responsible for the recent violence as well as of corrupt officials, and the passing of anti-graft laws.
"If the three authorities -- executive, judiciary and legislative -- are not able or willing to conduct these reforms decisively, there must be a way to think of a different approach," Hennis-Plasschaert warned on Monday without elaborating.
In his recent sermons, delivered by a representative, Sistani has described the protesters' demands as "legitimate" and called for the rallies to be handled with "restraint".