ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Shiite Cleric Muqtada al Sadr has called for Iranian-backed militias to be “patient” and allow for parliamentary and political efforts to expel foreign troops from Iraq.
He also called for the closure of militia bases and the quick formation of a government in order to tame the unrest gripping the country.
Iraq has been battlefield to skyrocketing US-Iran tensions, with the US conducting airstrikes on Iranian and Iran-backed targets in Iraq in response to a spate of rocket attacks against bases hosting US forces in the country.
The US and Iran are at loggerheads over a number of issues, including Iranian adventurism through its Shiite proxies across the region.
Tensions peaked after the US assassination of Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander Qasem Soleimani last week.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Sadr provided five steps to calm the current situation, following de-escalation statements by both Washington and Tehran.
Sadr urged for the formation of a governmental cabinet in next 15 days by nominating five “eligible and skillful” candidates in order to restore Iraq’s independence and dignity.
“In order to restore Iraq’s dignity and independence, the next Iraqi government should be formed within the next 15 days,” the statement read.
Sadr is head of the Sairoon alliance, the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament. He has headed the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades) militia, which is part of Iranian backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known as Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic, since 2014.
He ordered their dissolution in 2018 in all sites except Karbala and Samarra, home to holy Shiite shrines.
Sadr reiterated his calls for expelling the foreign troops in Iraq in his tweet and referred to the foreign troops in Iraq as “invaders”.
However, he called on all the armed militias to remain “patient” and not use force against the foreign troops in Iraq, instead letting legal and parliamentary routes run their course.
“I call on all the armed militias to stay calm and not start a military operation, and wait for the parliamentarian and political efforts to take place,” Sadr said.
He also advised the PMF to close all of their bases in Iraq in order to “avoid being hot targets” for international retaliation, especially if political parties decide to expel foreign troops by force.
Sadr has a long history fighting foreign troops in Iraq dating back to 2003, after the removal of the Baathist regime in Iraq.
The cleric founded southern Iraq’s Mahdi Army in 2003, during the US occupation. His militia killed and injured scores of American servicemen.
He disbanded the militia in 2008, but announced the reactivation of the Mahdi Army on Friday, referring to himself as the “head of Iraqi National Resistance.”
“I, in my capacity as the head of the Iraqi National Resistance, give the order for readiness of the Mujahideen, especially the Imam Mahdi Army and Al-Youm al-Mawoud Brigade, and all those national, disciplined factions under our order for us to be on full readiness to protect Iraq,” he tweeted on Friday morning.