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Iraq's Sadr says will not participate in country's upcoming parliamentary election

Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote at a polling station during the parliamentary elections in Najaf, Iraq, May 12, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

Iraq's influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr says he won't participate in upcoming parliamentary elections in October and withhold his support for any party.

In a five-minute address on his private TV channel on Thursday, Sadr declared that he would stay clear of the vote for parliament, where his Saeroon bloc is now the largest with 54 out of 329 seats.

The cleric also said he was withdrawing his support from the current government and the one that would be elected to replace it.

"I will not partake in these elections because the nation is more important than this," said Sadr in the televised speech, adding, "I am withdrawing my support from anyone who claims they belong to us in this current and upcoming government."

The prominent cleric also charged in his brief comments that in Iraqi politics "everyone is tainted with corruption and nobody is above being held accountable".

The remarks come a day after he warned Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi's government that he would hold it responsible if it failed to take action over a a recent devastating fire at a training hospital in the country’s south.

Raging fire engulfed the hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on Tuesday, reportedly killing more than 90 people.

The blaze erupted in the isolation ward, which was being used to hospitalize COVID-19 patients.

It was a poignant reminder of a similar conflagration that afflicted the Ibn Khatib hospital in the capital Baghdad earlier this year, killing more than 110 people.

The upcoming parliamentary vote will be held under a new electoral law that reduces the size of constituencies and eliminates list-based voting in favor of votes for individual candidates.  

Sadr's political bloc emerged as the biggest in the 2018 parliamentary election. Last year, Sadr said he wanted the next prime minister to be a member of his party for the first time.  

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