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Prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric calls for pro-Iran militias to disband

Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqatada al-Sadr speaks at a news conference in the central holy shrine city of Najaf, on November 18, 2021. (Ali Najafi/AFP)
Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqatada al-Sadr speaks at a news conference in the central holy shrine city of Najaf, on November 18, 2021. (Ali Najafi/AFP)

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s influential Shiite cleric who emerged as a winner in last month’s general elections calls on the country’s myriad pro-Iran Shiite armed factions to disband if they want to join his upcoming government.

Muqtada al-Sadr also asks the factions to hand over their weapons to the government-sanctioned umbrella known as Popular Mobilization Forces. In turn, he also asks the PMF to “purify” its ranks from “undisciplined elements” and surrender “corrupt individuals” to the judiciary.

The militias are certain to reject the demands, which in turn could complicate al-Sadr’s efforts to form a government after the vote. It could also increase tensions between Shiites who support the pro-Iran factions and al-Sadr’s own followers.

The pro-Iran factions lost a significant number of parliament seats in the October 10 elections and have called the vote fraudulent, rejecting the results. Their supporters have held protests outside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to government offices and foreign embassies.

The protests turned deadly earlier this month, when demonstrators tried to enter the Green Zone, demanding a ballot recount. One protester affiliated with the militias was killed in an exchange of fire, for which the militias blamed Iraq’s incumbent Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Tensions were further ratcheted up after a failed assassination attempt against al-Kadhimi at his residence the next day. The prime minister suffered a light cut and several of his guards were injured in the November 7 attack by armed drones on his Green Zone residence.

There was no responsibility claim for the attack, although suspicion immediately fell on the armed factions.

“Your losses can’t be a pretext for ruining the democratic process,” al-Sadr says at a rare press conference today, addressing the factions.

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