BAGHDAD -- Dozens of lawmakers who make up the biggest bloc in Iraq's parliament resigned on Sunday amid a prolonged political impasse, plunging the divided nation into political uncertainty.
The 73 lawmakers from powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc submitted their resignation based on his request, to protest a persisting political deadlock eight months after general elections were held.
Parliament Speaker Mohammed Halbousi accepted their resignation.
Al-Sadr, a maverick leader remembered for leading an insurgency against U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion, emerged as the winner in the election held in October.
The election was held several months earlier than expected, in response to mass protests that broke out in late 2019, and saw tens of thousands rally against endemic corruption, poor services and unemployment.
The vote brought victory for powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who won 73 out of Parliament's 329 seats, and was a blow for his Iran-backed Shiite rivals, who lost about two-thirds of their seats and have rejected the results.
Al-Sadr has been intent on forming, along with his allies, a majority government that excludes them. But he has not been able to corral enough lawmakers to parliament to get the two-thirds majority needed to elect Iraq’s next president — a necessary step ahead of naming the next prime minister and selecting a Cabinet.
Speaker Halbousi tweeted later that he “reluctantly” accepted the resignations based on al-Sadr's wishes and after sincere efforts to discourage him from this step. “For the sake of the country and the people, he decided to proceed with this decision,” he posted.
It was not immediately clear how the resignation of the biggest bloc in parliament would play out. A veteran Iraqi politician expressed concern that the resignations could lead to chaos in the country.
According to Iraqi laws, if any seat in parliament becomes vacant, the candidate who obtains the second highest number votes in their electoral district would replace them.
This would benefit al-Sadr's opponents from the so-called Coordination Framework, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shiite parties, and their allies - something al-Sadr would be unlikely to accept.
There are already concerns that the stalemate and tension could boil over and lead to street protests by supporters of al-Sadr, turning into violence between them and rival armed Shiite militias.
Al-Sadr, one of Iraq's most influential political leaders with a large following, has repeatedly alluded to the capabilities of his militia, Saraya Salam, which recently opened the doors for recruits in Babylon and Diyala provinces.