Powerful Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr tells his loyalists he is firm on his demands to dissolve parliament and hold early elections in the Arab country, which has remained without an elected government for nearly 10 months now.
Iraqi populist cleric Muqtada al Sadr has told his supporters to continue their sit-in occupation of the Baghdad Parliament until his demands, which include early elections and unspecified constitutional changes, are met.
Sadr reiterated during his address on Wednesday that he was ready to "be martyred" for his cause.
"Dissolve parliament and hold early elections," Sadr said.
The remarks, delivered by the Shia Muslim leader in a televised address, are likely to prolong a political deadlock that has kept Iraq without an elected government for nearly 10 months.
Thousands of Sadr's followers stormed Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, which houses government buildings and foreign missions, last weekend and took over the empty parliament building staging a sit-in that is ongoing.
The moves were a response to attempts by his Shia Muslim rivals, many of whom are close to Iran, to form a government with prime ministerial candidates that Sadr disapproves of.
Pressure through protests
Sadr won the largest number of seats in parliament in an October election but failed to form a government that would exclude his Iran-backed rivals.
He withdrew his lawmakers from parliament and has instead applied pressure through protests and the parliament sit-in, drawing on his popular base of millions of working-class Shias.
The deadlock between Sadr and his rivals has left Iraq without a government for a record time in the post-Saddam Hussein era.
Parliament can only be dissolved by a majority vote, according to the constitution. Such a vote can take place at the request of a third of lawmakers, or by the prime minister with the president's agreement.
"I am certain that the majority of the population is exasperated by the ruling class in its entirety, including some (politicians) belonging to my movement," Sadr said.
"From now on there will be no more old-guard politicians, whatever their affiliation," he added.