- Associated Press - Monday, August 29, 2022

BAGHDAD (AP) — An influential Shiite cleric whose followers have been staging a sit-in outside Iraq‘s parliament announced his resignation from politics and the closure of his party offices on Monday.

It is unclear how Muqtada al-Sadr’s latest announcement will affect an already unprecedented and destabilizing political crisis that has plagued Iraq since federal elections last year. His supporters are holding an ongoing sit-in outside the parliament building for over four weeks.

Shortly after al-Sadr’s announcement, hundreds more of his followers rushed to the government palace, which contains the main offices of caretaker prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, to protest there.

The cleric has announced his retirement from politics on previous occasions when circumstances aligned with his interests, but many fear this time could spur more escalation in an already fragile setting.

Al-Sadr’s statement appears to be a reaction the retirement of Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Kadhim al-Haeri, who counts many of al-Sadr’s supporters as followers. Al-Haeri said he would be retiring as a religious authority and called on his followers to support Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seen as a blow to al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr won the largest share of seats in the October elections but failed to form a majority government, leading to what has become one of the worst political crises in Iraq in recent years.

His bloc later resigned from parliament and his supporters last month stormed the parliament building in Baghdad. Al-Sadr has demanded that parliament be dissolved and early elections held.

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