Lawmakers from Iraq’s largest bloc break out of deadlock

BAGHDAD — Dozens of lawmakers who make up the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament resigned on Sunday amid a protracted political deadlock, plunging the divided nation into political uncertainty.

The 73 lawmakers from the bloc of powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr resigned based on his request to protest an ongoing political deadlock eight months after the general election was held.

Parliament Speaker Mohammed Halbousi accepted their resignation.

Al-Sadr, a maverick leader remembered for leading an uprising against US forces after the 2003 invasion, emerged victorious in October’s elections.

The elections were held several months earlier than expected, in response to mass protests that erupted in late 2019, where tens of thousands of people gathered against endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment.

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

Al-Sadr planned, along with his allies, to form a majority government that would exclude them. But he has failed to get enough lawmakers into parliament to secure the two-thirds majority needed to elect Iraq’s next president — a necessary step ahead of naming the next prime minister and selecting a cabinet.

Speaker Halbousi later tweeted that he “reluctantly” accepted the resignation based on al-Sadr’s wishes and after sincere efforts to dissuade him from taking this step. “In the interest of the country and the people, he decided to go ahead with this decision,” he wrote.

It was not immediately clear how the resignation of the largest bloc in parliament would go. An experienced Iraqi politician expressed concern that the resignation could lead to chaos in the country.

Under Iraqi laws, if a seat in parliament becomes vacant, the candidate who obtains the second highest number of votes in their constituency will replace it.

This would benefit al-Sadr’s opponents of the so-called Coordination Framework, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shia parties and their allies — something al-Sadr was unlikely to accept.

There are already concerns that the stalemate and tension could boil over and lead to street protests by al-Sadr supporters, culminating in violence between them and rival armed Shia militias.

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

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