FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Shiite Muslim men from Shi'ite Badr organisation hold a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as they walk along a street painted in the colours of the Israeli flag. REUTERS./

 – Iraq’s parliament swore in dozens of new lawmakers on Thursday to replace a bloc loyal to the powerful Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, strengthening the power of rival Iran-backed politicians in the assembly.

The bloc of 73 Sadrist parliamentarians resigned two weeks ago after months of stalemate over forming a new government.

Shi’ite lawmaker Ahmed Rubaie, whose party is part of an Iran-backed bloc, said that coalition was now the main force in the 329-seat parliament.

“Following the Sadr lawmakers’ resignation, we can confirm that we are the largest bloc in parliament with around 130 seats after the swearing in of the new lawmakers,” he told reporters.

[aesop_image img=”” panorama=”off” credit=”REUTERS./” align=”center” lightbox=”off” captionsrc=”custom” caption=”Iraqi Shiite Muslim men from Shi’ite Badr organisation hold a portrait of Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as they walk along a street painted in the colours of the Israeli flag during a parade marking the annual al-Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Baghdad. ” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

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Sadr’s party was the biggest winner in an October general election, and its success had raised the possibility that he could sideline his Iranian-backed rivals who had dominated politics in Iraq for years.

But political disagreement among parties hindered parliament from electing a president and forming a government.

Even though his withdrawal is a setback, Sadr, a populist whose supporters fought U.S. occupation forces after they overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003, is able to mobilise popular support.

Sixty-four new members of parliament were sworn in on Thursday, with nine absent for unknown reasons, the assembly’s media office said.

(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Dominic EvansEditing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Nick Macfie)

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