Al-Sadr ‘withdraws’ from Iraqi politics after months of tensions | News

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Muqtada al-Sadr’s announcement comes as his supporters continue a sit-in demanding parliament be dissolved.

The Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has announced that he is quitting political life and closing his political offices in a move that could further inflame tensions in the country.

The statement, published on Twitter on Monday, comes amid months of protests by his supporters backing his call for the dissolution of the Iraqi parliament, which has seen ten months of deadlock representing the longest Iraq has gone without a government, and for new elections to be held.

“I hereby announce my final withdrawal,” al-Sadr said.

In his statement, al-Sadr attacked his political opponents and said they had not listened to his calls for reform. The announcement came two days after al-Sadr said “all parties” including his own should give up government positions in order to help resolve the months-long political crisis, while calling on those who “have been part of the political process” since the US-led invasion of the country in 2003 to “no longer participate”.

Sadr’s party, the Sadrist Bloc, won the most seats in an October 2021 election, but he ordered his legislators to resign en-masse in June after he failed to form a government of his choosing, which would have excluded powerful Shia rivals close to Iran.

The move, however, handed the initiative in parliament to his Iran-backed Shia opponents, the Coordination Framework Alliance.

Many of al-Sadr’s supporters have since the end of July been participating in a sit-in outside the Iraqi parliament, after storming the building and stopping al-Sadr’s rivals from appointing a new president and prime minister.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi, an ally of al-Sadr, remains Iraq’s caretaker prime minister.

Reporting from from Baghdad, Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said more supporters of al-Sadr had joined those who have been staging the sit in at parliament, raising fears of an escalation that could further destabilise the country. He added al-Sadr’s statements appeared to seek to distance himself from any upcoming unrest.

“This resignation comes at a time that the political crisis in Iraq has reached an elevated stage,” said Abdelwahed. “It can be read in terms of disappointment, frustration, by the Sadrist movements, but on the other hand it could be also read as an attempt to try to put more pressure on his rivals”.

He added that the political deadlock has halted services that are “impacting the regular citizens”.

Reacting to their leader’s withdrawal, many of Sadr’s supporter attempted to bring down security barriers and converge on a rival sit-in on Monday. Dozens of protesters also entered the Presidential Palace, a source in the Iraqi presidency told Al Jazeera.

Protests last week spread to the country’s Supreme Judicial Council, the country’s top administrative judicial authority, as al-Sadr called on the judiciary to dissolve parliament. The council said at the time it did not have the authority to dissolve parliament.

Iraq’s Supreme Federal Court is meeting on Tuesday to decide on whether the parliament will be dissolved, although Farhad Alaaldin, the chairman of the Iraq Advisory Council, told Al Jazeera the Iraqi constitution says it is “up to the parliament to dissolve itself”.

Alaaldin added it was unlikely al-Sadr would be stepping away from Iraqi politics for good. He has announced his withdrawal from political life before, only to walk his decision back.

“He wants to see Iraq in a way that he’s seeing it and he’s been working systematically since 2010, or you can say 2006, onward,” he said. “I don’t believe that he’s going to throw away everything that you’ve worked for for the past 18 years just on a tweet.”

“He has a mission and he has a plan and he thinks he has the way to make it into a different regime where he would be the dominant force,” he said.