Lawmakers from Iraq’s largest bloc resign amid deadlock

BAGHDAD — Dozens of lawmakers who make up the largest bloc in Iraq’s parliament resigned on Sunday in a protracted political stalemate, plunging the divided nation into political uncertainty.

All 73 MPs from the bloc of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have tendered their resignations at his request, in protest at a lingering political deadlock eight months after the general elections were held.

The Speaker of Parliament, Mohammed Halbousi, accepted their resignation.

Al-Sadr, a maverick leader remembered for leading an insurgency against US forces after the 2003 invasion, emerged victorious in the October election.

The election came several months ahead of schedule, in response to mass protests that erupted in late 2019, and saw tens of thousands rally against rampant corruption, poor services and unemployment.

The vote brought victory to powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who won 73 of the parliament’s 329 seats, and was a blow to his Iran-backed Shia rivals, who lost around two-thirds of their seats. and rejected the results.

Al-Sadr intends to form, with his allies, a majority government that excludes them. But he was unable to muster enough lawmakers in parliament to secure the two-thirds majority needed to elect Iraq’s next president – a necessary step before appointing the next prime minister and choosing a cabinet.

President Halbousi later tweeted that he “reluctantly” accepted the resignations based on al-Sadr’s wishes and after sincere efforts to discourage him from doing so. “For the good of the country and the people, he has decided to pursue this decision,” he posted.

It was not immediately clear how the resignation of the largest bloc in parliament would play out. A veteran Iraqi politician has expressed concern that the resignations will lead to chaos in the country.

According to Iraqi laws, if a seat in parliament becomes vacant, the candidate with the second highest number of votes in his constituency will replace him.

This would benefit al-Sadr’s opponents from the so-called Coordinating Framework, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shiite parties, and their allies – something al-Sadr is unlikely to accept.

There are already fears that the standoff and tensions could boil over and lead to street protests by al-Sadr’s supporters, escalating into violence between them and rival armed Shiite militias.

Al-Sadr, one of Iraq’s most influential political leaders with a large following, has repeatedly hinted at the abilities of his militia, Saraya Salam, which recently opened the doors to recruits in the provinces of Babylon and from Diyala.

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