A powerful Shiite cleric and Iraq's main secular bloc have made new calls to unseat Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, as a long-running political crisis appeared set to drag on.
"We say, complete your (good work) and announce your resignation, for the sake of the people... and for the sake of partners," Moqtada al-Sadr said in a statement released late on Sunday.
When mentioning Maliki's "good work," Sadr appeared to be referring to the premier's opposition to efforts by several provinces to secure more autonomy from Baghdad.
The cleric was responding to one of his followers who asked his opinion on calls to create additional autonomous regions in Iraq in the event of a successful no-confidence vote against Maliki, and the premier's opposition to such measures.
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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.
Maysoon al-Damaluji, spokeswoman for the secular Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc which is seeking to convince President Jalal Talabani to initiate a vote of no confidence in Maliki, meanwhile called for members of Maliki's National Alliance to quickly find a replacement for the embattled premier.
It is up to "the brothers and sisters in National Alliance to carry the historic responsibility and to work seriously and quickly to find a replacement within the National Alliance," Damaluji said in an emailed statement on Monday.
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.