Pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi increased on Wednesday as Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr declined Mahdi’s invitation for a new alliance instead of early elections.
The anti-government demonstrations, protesting a lack of basic services and high unemployment took Iraq by storm on October 1 and are now entering the sixth day of the second round with tens of thousands demonstrating in the streets.
Both Sadr and Hadi al Amiri, two influential leaders who once supported the government are determined to take Mahdi down.
Sadr heads the major political bloc in the parliament, Sairoon, and Amiri’s alliance of Iran-backed Shiite militia, al Fatah, holds the second-largest number of seats in parliament.
“The bloodshed won’t stop if you don’t step down. I warn you that if you don’t resign, Iraq will turn into Syria and Yemen,” Sadr said in a social media statement.
“I will not participate in any alliances or factions anymore.”
Sadr’s statement came after Mahdi challenged his call for resignation earlier, saying that political reconciliation is an easier solution to the current conflict because declaring early elections requires the majority of votes in the parliament, which is 165.
The quickest way to replace the government, Mahdi said, would be an agreement by two major blocs on a new government.
Sadr, then called on Amiri, not to form a new alliance, but to pressure the prime minister to step down.
Amiri agreed to help oust Mahdi on Tuesday, commenting in a statement: “We will work together to secure the interests of the Iraqi people and save the nation in accordance with the public good.”
For some experts, Mahdi was calling Sadr’s bluff when he invited them to collaborate.
“Sadr calls AAM to resign but AAM calls Sadr's bluff and says ‘Fine, go agree with Hadi al-Amiri on a replacement for me and I'll be out within hours’. I think this reveals more than the PM should have wanted,” Kirk H Sowell, the principal of Utica Risk Services, a Middle East-focused political risk firm, said in a tweet.
“This brings me to my final point, regarding the difficulties of replacing AAM when he knows full well the 165 votes for a replacement aren't there & the last thing many MPs want is another PM chosen by Amiri & Sadr.”
Once a sectarian cleric, Sadr emerged as one of the most influential figures in Iraqi politics in 2018, as he re-branded himself as a populist anti-corruption and anti-sectarian leader -- a move that helped his bloc sweep last year's polls.
He came out in support of the protesters and deployed his militia on the ground to back Iraqis in the streets as he withdrew his support to the government after the first round of the protests began on October 1.
At least 83 people have been killed in the second round of the protests that re-emerged on Friday after 149 people were killed in the first round.