The Supreme Judicial Council responded to Muqtada al-Sadr’s ultimatum amid a paralyzing political crisis.
Iraq’s top judicial body has said it does not have the power to dissolve the country’s parliament, days after influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr extended a political deadlock by giving him a week to dissolve the assembly so new elections could be held.
The decision is likely to increase tensions between Iran-backed factions in the Coordination Framework and al-Sadr’s followers, who have repeatedly stormed parliament and suspended sessions to nominate a new prime minister.
“The Supreme Judicial Council does not have the power to dissolve Parliament,” it said in a statement, adding that it “cannot interfere with the work of the legislature or the executive”.
Al-Sadr, whose political group won the most seats in parliament in October but failed to form a majority government excluding Iran-aligned rivals, tweeted on Wednesday that the judiciary had one week to dissolve the legislature.
He called on his followers on Saturday night to prepare for mass protests across Iraq, expressing concern about renewed tensions, but did not set a date for the protests.
Iraq is in its 10th month of political deadlock since the 2003 United States-led invasion restored political order. The road map ahead remains unclear as Parliament has exceeded the constitutional deadline for forming a new government after the polls.
The Supreme Judicial Council said in a statement that it agreed with al-Sadr’s criticism of the system, which “fails to elect a republican president, a prime minister, and the absence of a government formed within constitutional time limits.”
“This is an unacceptable situation that needs to be addressed,” he said.
‘Millions of People Show’
On July 30, thousands of al-Sadr’s followers stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone – which houses Iraq’s government buildings and foreign embassies – for the second time in a week. They have since staged a sit-in outside Parliament.
All sessions of the Legislative Assembly were canceled until further notice, effectively halting the Coordinating Framework’s efforts to form the next government after al-Sadr failed to do so.
Al-Sadr’s followers stopped short of demolishing the nearby Supreme Judicial Council building, in an act many would consider rebellion.
On Friday, supporters of the Coordination Framework began their own Baghdad sit-in to protest the capture of the legislature by supporters of al-Sadr.
On Twitter, Sadr’s close aide, Saleh Mohammed al-Iraqi, said it was time to show the Iraqi people “which of the two sides has the most support”.
He called on al-Sadr’s supporters across the country to rally in Baghdad “for a demonstration of millions,” without giving a date.
Although Shiite rivals have agreed to hold elections, fundamental disagreements over electoral rules remain.
Al-Sadr wants to use the same rules in October’s elections, when Iraq was divided into 83 electoral districts. The clerical bloc emerged from the polls as the largest in parliament, but still far short of a majority.
The current law favors strong grassroots parties, such as al-Sadr, which increased its seats from 54 to 73, while Iran-backed parties fell from 48 to 16.
The Coordination Plan seeks to amend the Act. However, the parliament building is closed because hundreds of al-Sadr’s followers are camped outside, preventing members of parliament from entering.
A weak political barrier further weakens the country’s ability to provide caretaker government and basic services.
Ordinary Iraqis are increasingly frustrated as the caretaker government struggles to provide basic services such as electricity and water.
Unable to pass a budget law, the government has resorted to stop-gap measures to fund urgent expenses such as food and electricity payments to neighboring countries, while crucial investments, including water infrastructure, have stalled.