Iraqi populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr accused his Iran-aligned political rivals of abusing the judiciary for their own interests on Wednesday, amid wrangling over the formation of a new government.
Although Mr Al Sadr’s political group emerged in the strongest position after October's elections, gaining 73 seats out of 328 in the country's national assembly, he failed to form a government with his allies, prompting him to order his MPs to resign.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the deeply divided parliament held an extraordinary session and swore in new lawmakers to replace resigned Sadrist lawmakers.
Only 64 new lawmakers took the constitutional oath to the parliament, while nine others did not attend the session, the office of the Parliament Speaker said.
The office did not provide details on how many seats other parties gained after the mass resignation, but was likely to strengthen the position of Mr Al Sadr's Iran-backed rivals.
The resignation of Sadrists has complicated the political stalemate in the country, casting further doubt on the process of forming a government eight months after the national elections.
Mr Al Sadr did not identify any specific political party on Wednesday, but said “Iran’s arms are practising political violations against the Iraqi judiciary for their own interests”.
“They are also trying to exert pressure on other political blocs, whether independents or non-Shiite blocs,” he said.
“Some blocs are afraid of increasing illegal pressure on them, such as violence or issuing judicial decisions or spreading rumours."
He also dismissed as “groundless and a lie” reports that he ordered his bloc to resign from parliament owing to pressure from Iran.
Mr Al Sadr is one of Iraq's most powerful figures, with a national following. He became a prominent leader after the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein following the US-led invasion.
Mr Al Sadr wanted to move away from a political system introduced by the US that is based on sectarian apportionment. The system considers the political influence and perceived entitlements of each sect during government formation, rather than policy agendas.
For that goal, he wanted to form a majority government only with winners from Sunni and Kurdish parties — respecting the will of voters, rather than negotiating backroom deals.
That has upset his rivals in the Co-ordination Framework, an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias and parties that suffered major losses in the elections.
The group wants him to help to form a wider Shiite bloc to negotiate the formation of a government and the division of posts along sectarian lines.
Since the resignation, the Co-ordination Framework has tried to forge a deal with Mr Al Sadr’s allies, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Sunni Sovereignty Alliance, but has failed to make headway.
Members of the KDP and the alliance have come under attack and received threats from armed groups. Analysts have blamed the incidents on Iran-backed militias, something Mr Al Sadr alluded to on Wednesday.