Iraqi lawmakers from firebrand Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc resigned on Sunday, the parliamentary speaker said, a move ostensibly designed to end eight months of political paralysis.
“We have reluctantly accepted the requests of our brothers and sisters, representatives of the al-Sadr bloc, to resign,” parliament’s speaker Mohammed al-Halboussi said on Twitter after receiving resignation letters from the 73 lawmakers.
Al-Sadr on Thursday urged the MPs from his bloc, the biggest in parliament, to ready resignation papers in a bid, he said, to break the parliamentary deadlock and create space for the establishment of a new government.
Parliament in Baghdad has been in turmoil since October’s general election, and intense negotiations among political factions have failed to forge a majority in support of a new prime minister to succeed Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
Iraqi lawmakers have already exceeded all deadlines for setting up a new government set down in the constitution, prolonging the war-scarred country’s political crisis.
Al-Sadr, a populist who has positioned himself as a staunch opponent of both Iran and the United States, said in a statement that his request to lawmakers to resign was “a sacrifice from me for the country and the people to rid them of the unknown destiny”.
It was not immediately clear how the resignation of the biggest bloc in parliament would play out. A veteran Iraqi politician expressed concern that the resignations could lead to chaos in the country.
“Sadr reached to the point that he accepted the bitter reality that it’s nearly impossible to form a government away from the Iranian-backed groups,” said Ali Moussawi, a former lawmaker and a political researcher at the University of Baghdad
Even though his withdrawal is a setback, al-Sadr, whose supporters fought US occupation forces, still has firepower with hundreds of thousands of followers who can stage protests, Moussawi added.
According to Iraqi laws, if any seat in parliament becomes vacant, the candidate who obtains the second highest number votes in their electoral district would replace them.
This would benefit al-Sadr’s opponents from the so-called Coordination Framework, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shia parties, and their allies – something al-Sadr would be unlikely to accept.
There are already concerns the stalemate and tension could boil over and lead to street protests by supporters of al-Sadr, turning into violence between them and rival armed groups.
Al-Sadr has repeatedly alluded to the capabilities of his militia, Saraya Salam, which recently opened the doors for recruits in Babylon and Diyala provinces.