BAGHDAD (Dispatches) -- Muqtada al-Sadr has announced an unexpected political alliance with a commander of Iraq’s liberators, Hadi al-Amiri, in a bid to lead Iraq over the next four years.
The two blocs won first and second place in the country's May 12 parliamentary election. By forming a coalition with Amiri on June 12, Sadr moves a step closer to forming a coalition with enough seats to hold a majority in the 329-seat parliament.
The two Shia figures said they would keep the door open for other winning blocs to join them in forming a new government.
The move by Sadr was a surprise as he had previously suggested he would not work with Amiri who led an alliance of volunteer forces, including Hashd al-Sha’bai, rout Daesh terrorists in Iraq.
Sadr, a former militia leader who led two uprisings against U.S. occupying forces which left Iraq in 2011, has called for his country to be independent.
Amiri, leader of the Fatih alliance and a fluent Farsi speaker, has spent two years in exile in Iran during the era of Saddam Hussein.
At a joint press conference with Amiri in the holy city of Najaf, Sadr said they would form "a true alliance to accelerate the formation of a national government away from any dogmatism."
"Our meeting was a very positive one. We met to end the suffering of this nation and of the people. Our new alliance is a nationalist one," Sadr said.
"This is a call to all those who care about national interests... We will set up committees to discuss with all ways to accelerate the drafting of a government program," said Amiri.
Many of Iraq's longtime political figures were pushed out of their seats by new faces in the elections.
"Fatih and Saeroon announce forming the nucleus of the largest bloc and call on all winning blocs to participate in this alliance under a government program agreed upon by all that is suitable to face the challenges, crises, and problems facing Iraq," a Fatih spokesman said in a statement.
The alliance, which together has 101 seats, is 64 short of the majority needed to form a government. It formed hours after Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose own bloc came third, urged politicians to keep negotiating over government formation despite an impending nationwide manual recount of votes.
Parliament mandated a recount after Abadi said a government report showed there were serious violations.
A few days later, a storage site housing half of Baghdad's ballot boxes caught fire, raising tensions and prompting some to call for the election to be repeated.
Abadi said on Tuesday he opposed a repeat, echoing the stances of Sadr and Amiri, and warned that anyone who tried to sabotage the political process would be punished.
He may yet secure a second term as a compromise candidate if he joins Sadr and Amiri and manages to win their backing.
"The matter is exclusively in the hands of the judiciary, not politicians. The government and parliament don't have the power to cancel the election," Abadi said of a ballot repeat.
The government report had recommended a recount of five percent of votes but the outgoing parliament, in which more than half of lawmakers including the speaker lost their seats, instead voted for a nationwide one.
Amiri said on Tuesday he supported only a partial recount.
Sadr has warned that certain parties are trying to drag Iraq into a civil war. In an article published on Monday, he urged Iraqis to unite. "Stop fighting for seats, posts, gains, influence, power, and rulership," Sadr wrote.
"Is it not time to stand as one for building and reconstruction instead of burning ballet boxes or repeating elections just for one seat or two?" he added.
"Is it not time to disarm and hand over weapons to the state instead of storing it in mosques so that it explodes and kills the innocent?”