Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr has called on his supporters to continue a sit-in inside the parliament until his demands are met, days after they breached Baghdad's heavily fortified "green zone" and occupied the country's legislature.
Sadr made the plea in a televised address from Najaf on Wednesday, repeating his demands, which include the dissolution of the parliament and holding early elections.
He said he was ready to "be martyred" for his cause and that he had "no interest" in negotiating with his rivals. "Don't believe the rumors that I don't want dialog," Sadr said. "But we have already tried and experienced dialog with them. It has brought nothing to us and to the nation – only ruin and corruption."
Iraq has been grappling with a political crisis in the absence of a functional government since October last year, when the country held its last legislative elections. Sadr's political bloc emerged as the biggest parliamentary faction in those elections but fell short of an absolute majority needed to form a government, causing the country's longest post-election deadlock.
In June, all 73 legislators of the bloc quit their seats in a move seen as an attempt to pressure political rivals into expediting the formation of a government. Intense negotiations between rival factions, mainly the Sadrists and the so-called Coordination Framework, over the past several months have failed to bridge the divide.
Sadr's latest remarks could prolong the current political standoff over the formation of a new government.
On Saturday, his supporters forced their way into the parliament and suspended a session to nominate a new prime minister. Demonstrators oppose the candidacy of Mohammed Shia al-Sudani for the premier’s post.
The protesters have been occupying the legislative chamber since Saturday and have vowed to continue to remain inside the parliament.
The outgoing premier, Mustafa al-Kadhemi, has called for a "national dialog" in a bid to bring all sides together to talk, and on Wednesday spoke with President Barham Saleh. Both leaders have stressed the importance of "guaranteeing security and stability" in the country, according to the Iraqi News Agency.
Earlier in the day, the United Nations called on the political factions in Iraq to set aside their differences and look for "urgent solutions" to the Arab country's protracted political crisis. "Meaningful dialogue among all Iraqi parties is now more urgent than ever, as recent events have demonstrated the rapid risk of escalation in this tense political climate," the UN said.
Press TV’s website can also be accessed at the following alternate addresses: