Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr has ruled out further participation in the country's political process, until it is purged of “the corrupt”, days after the mass resignation of his followers in parliament.
Mr Al Sadr ordered members of parliament affiliated with his movement to submit their resignations on Sunday as a deadlock over forming a post-election government entered its eighth month.
On Wednesday he announced his withdrawal from the political process to MPs gathered in the southern city of Najaf, where he lives.
Mr Al Sadr is one of Iraq's most powerful figures, with a national following, and the move has thrown the political process into doubt.
“I decided to withdraw from the political process in order not to participate with the corrupt in any way, neither in this world nor in the hereafter,” he told politicians seated in rows on the ground in a hall in Najaf.
“What I want to tell you is that in the next stage, I will not participate in the coming elections also with the corrupt.”
He said he would participate in elections only if the “corrupt and those who have stolen Iraq are removed”.
Mr Al Sadr's efforts to form the next government failed despite his followers, known as the Sadrists, having made a strong showing in October's general election, when they won 73 seats in the 329-seat Parliament.
His desire to form a majority government only with Sunni and Kurdish parties upset his rivals in the Co-ordination Framework, an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias and parties that suffered major losses in the election.
The Iran-backed groups want Mr Al Sadr to team up with them to form a wider Shiite bloc to negotiate the formation of the government and division of posts on sectarian lines.
Shortly after accepting the resignations on Sunday, Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi announced that Mr Al Sadr had chosen to go into the opposition. He ruled out the possibility of a fresh elections “at the moment”, saying other parties would continue efforts to form the government.
Under the election law, an MP who resigns will be replaced by the candidate who polled the next highest number of votes in that constituency.
Iraq's Independent High Election Commission said it had not received any letter from parliament, which went on a month-long summer break in late May, to start the process.
Last month, the UN envoy to Iraq chastised the country's political elite over the failure to form a new government and warned that the delay could could spark civil unrest in the country.
"The streets are about to boil over in Iraq," Dutch diplomat Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council, adding that Iraq and the region cannot afford to go back to October 2019, when deadly street protests rocked the country.
Political leaders agree to hold negotiations and dialogues, "but the necessary willingness to compromise? It is painfully absent", Ms Hennis-Plasschaert said.
The October 10 election came in response to one of the core demands of a nationwide, pro-reform protest movement that erupted in 2019.
It was the fifth parliamentary vote for a full-term government since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.