Nuri al-Maliki
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, pictured in 2011, needs to be removed for reforms to take place, powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Sunday, adding that his MPs would back a no-confidence vote if needed. © Ahmad al-Rubaye - AFP/File
Nuri al-Maliki
Mohamad Ali Harissi, AFP
Last updated: June 24, 2012

Iraqi cleric al-Sadr: Prime Minister al-Maliki must go for reforms to happen

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki needs to be removed for reforms to take place, powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Sunday, adding that his MPs would back a no-confidence vote if needed.

"Reforms are the main goal, and withdrawing confidence precedes these reforms," Sadr told reporters in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, likening the situation to the need to wash before prayers.

"We want to pray, but our prayer will not be correct unless we have ablution before," he said. "The reforms cannot be implemented without putting pressure on the government."

Sadr said he does not want to withdraw confidence from Maliki, but that he would support such a move if needed.

"I do not want to withdraw confidence, nor does anyone else, but our first and last request is reform and partnership, and not marginalising the others," the cleric said.

He also reiterated that if his parliamentary bloc's votes were needed to unseat Maliki, he would provide them.

"I said, and I am still saying, and this is a promise from my side to the other blocs, that if their votes reach 124 ... I will add to them the remaining 40 votes."

When asked about the nature of the reforms he seeks, Sadr referred to a list of points he presented in late April.

The points include giving priority to Iraqi interests over sectarian, ethnic and party interests, and having minorities "participate in building Iraq, politically, economically and in security."

Appointing permanent ministers to security posts, including the defence ministry, that have remained unfilled since 2010 was also among his points, as was standing "strongly against any internal or foreign threats against any component of the Iraqi people."

Sadr was not optimistic about the stabilisation of the political situation in Iraq.

"In Iraq, the crisis never ends, it is either put aside or the others will ignore it, so it will appear again at a different time," he said.

Sadr, the head of the Ahrar parliamentary bloc, an important part of Maliki's national unity government, has previously criticised the premier as a "dictator" hungry for acclaim, and accused him of seeking to postpone or cancel elections.

An effort to persuade President Jalal Talabani to call a no-confidence vote stalled earlier this month when he said that Maliki's opponents lacked the votes to oust him.

That decision meant the only way Maliki's opponents could press their drive for a no-confidence motion was by requesting that he appear before parliament and then holding the vote.

Parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi said on Thursday that Maliki opponents are to ask in the coming days for him to appear before the house in a renewed bid to oust him.

Iraq has been hit by a series of intertwined political crises that began in mid-December, with accusations by Iraqiya that Maliki was concentrating power in his hands, and has escalated into calls to unseat him.

The crises have paralysed government, especially parliament, which has passed no significant legislation except for the budget, while other important measures such as a hydrocarbons law regulating the country's oil sector have been delayed.

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