BAGHDAD, Aug 3 (Reuters) – Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday told his supporters to continue their sit-in occupation of the Baghdad parliament until his demands, which include early elections and unspecified constitutional changes, are met.
The remarks, delivered by the Shi’ite Muslim leader in a televised address, are likely to prolong a political deadlock that has kept Iraq without an elected government for nearly 10 months.
Thousands of Sadr’s followers stormed Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign missions, last weekend and took over the empty parliament building staging a sit-in that is ongoing.
The moves were a response to attempts by his Shi’ite Muslim rivals, many of whom are close to Iran, to form a government with prime ministerial candidates that Sadr disapproves of.
Sadr won the largest number of seats in parliament in an October election but failed to form a government that would exclude his Iran-backed rivals.
He withdrew his lawmakers from parliament and has instead applied pressure through protests and the parliament sit-in, drawing on his popular base of millions of working-class Shi’ites.
Sadr reiterated during his address that he was ready to “be martyred” for his cause.
“Dissolve parliament and hold early elections,” Sadr said.
The deadlock between Sadr and his rivals has left Iraq without a government for a record time in the post-Saddam Hussein era.
(Reporting by John Davison, additional reporting by Alaa Swilam in DubaiEditing by Alistair Bell)