BAGHDAD: Powerful Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr on Wednesday called on the country’s judiciary to dissolve parliament by end of next week, threatening unspecific consequences if it does not do what he says.
The populist leader has helped inflame tensions in Iraq over the last two weeks by commanding thousands of followers to storm and occupy parliament, preventing the formation of a government nearly 10 months after elections.
His political opponents, mostly fellow Shiites backed by Iran, have refused to accede to Sadr’s demands, raising fears of fresh unrest and violence in a conflict-weary Iraq.
The judiciary “must dissolve parliament by the end of next week… if not, the revolutionaries will take another stance,” Sadr said in a statement on his Twitter account, without elaborating.
Sadr has called for early elections and unspecified changes to the constitution after withdrawing his lawmakers from parliament in June.
The withdrawal was a protest against his failure to form a government despite holding nearly a quarter of parliament and having enough allies to make up more than half the chamber.
Sadr blames Iran-aligned parties for the failed government formation and accuses them of corruption, but his followers also control some of the worst-managed government departments.
Experts are divided on whether Al-Sadr has any legal basis for his demands. He won the largest share of seats in the election last October, but failed to form a majority government that excluded his Iran-aligned rivals.
Al-Sadr called his followers “revolutionaries” and said “they will take another position” if his demands were not met, hinting at possibly escalating the protest.
The judiciary stated previously it does not have the constitutional right to dissolve parliament and that only lawmakers can vote to dissolve the legislature. Because the parliament has exceeded the constitutional timeline for forming a government following the October elections, what happens next is not clear.
Al-Sadr’s political rivals in the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Iran-backed parties, said earlier that the parliament would have to convene to dissolve itself.
Last week, thousands of Al-Sadr’s followers stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses Iraq’s parliament, government buildings and foreign embassies. They overran and occupied the parliament, after which all sessions of the assembly were canceled until further notice. The takeover also effectively halted efforts by the Coordination Framework to try and form the next government after Al-Sadr failed to do so.
Iraq’s political impasse, now in its tenth month, is the longest in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion reset the political order.
In their takeover of parliament, Al-Sadr’s followers stopped short of overrunning the Judicial Council building next door — an act that many consider a coup as the judiciary is the highest legal authority in the country.