The Iraqi prime minister’s electoral alliance collapsed on Monday just a day after its formation, with some members accusing other groups of sectarianism and corruption.
Haider Al Abadi, a Shiite who led the country in the four-year war against ISIL, is hoping to secure another term as president in the upcoming May general elections after claiming victory over the extremists and thwarting an Iraqi Kurdish bid for independence.
On Sunday, Mr Al Abadi announced the formation of a "cross-sectarian" coalition called Nasr Al Iraq — "The Victory Alliance” — to face off in the elections against the so-called "State of Law" bloc of vice-president Nouri Al Maliki, Mr Al Abadi's predecessor, key rival and fellow Dawa party member.
The Nasr Al Iraq coalition was supposed to include Al Fatih bloc, a group of powerful Shiite militias led by Hadi Al Ameri.
But by Monday, several Al Fatih members had announced their withdrawal from the coalition, including Al Badr Organisation.
“Our withdrawal from The Victory Alliance was carried out formally and collectively,” said Mohammed Al Bayati, assistant to the head of Al Badr Organisation.
News of the withdrawals came just hours after it was announced that prominent Shiite leader Ammar Al Hakim would be joining Nasr Al Iraq.
Al Fatih members cited various reasons for their decisions to withdraw, including charges of sectarianism and corruption against coalition members, and opposition to the inclusion of Mr Al Hakim. Other members chose to withdraw for more practical reasons, however, believing they will secure more seats by running on a smaller list.
One Fatih leader, Falah Al Khazali, accused the coalition of including "groups involved in corruption", while another, Haneen Al Qado, simply said "reasons for the withdrawals are due to the contention of parties within The Victory Alliance and differences of opinions”.
There was no official response from Mr Al Abadi's office.
Earlier, one of Iraq’s most senior Shiite clerics, Moqtada Al Sadr, denounced as "abhorrent" Mr Al Abadi’s decision to join forces with Iran-backed militias in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Mr Al Sadr said he was “surprised” by Mr Al Abadi’s alliance with Al Fatih coalition.
“My condolences [to the people of Iraq] for the abhorrent political alliances [that are of a] sectarian nature,” Mr Al Sadr said.
The Shiite cleric had previously announced his support for Mr Al Abadi and pledged to back his candidacy for a second term.
But Mr Al Sadr described the militias as “shameless” and said the Nasr Al Iraq coalition would “pave the way for the return of corruption and sectarianism”.
The militias fight as part of the Hashed Al Shaabi, a Shiite-dominated alliance that remains deeply divisive and has been accused of a string of abuses.
Known in English as the Popular Mobilisation Units, the Hashed can field between 60,000 and 140,000 fighters.
In November, Mr Al Abadi banned militia leaders from running in the elections, saying there should be a “clear separation between political and armed groups”. Many militia leaders subsequently formally resigned from positions in armed groups.
"It is very simple for militia leaders to sidestep any restrictions on political activity by nominally stepping down from military roles," Michael Knights, Iraq analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The National.
The prime minister's plea for a separation between political and armed groups was backed by Mr Al Sadr last month when he ordered his fighters in the Hashed Al Shaabi to disband and hand over territory held by them to state security forces.
The influential Shiite cleric urged Mr Al Abadi to prevent leaders of the Hashed from running in the upcoming elections.