In Rudaw 

Sadr announces he will contest election: state media

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said he will contest Iraq’s October 10 elections, reversing an earlier decision to boycott the vote, state media reported Friday.

The influential cleric and leader of the parliament’s largest bloc said he will contest the elections “with determination.”

Explaining his decision, Sadr said he has “received a reform paper from the political parties” that meets his expectations and called on the parliament to implement the reforms outlined in the paper, without going into further detail.

In July, Sadr announced he was withdrawing from the election and pulling his support for the current and upcoming governments. “In order to preserve what is left of the nation and to save the nation that has been burnt by the corrupt and is still burning, I inform you that I will not be participating in the elections,” he said in a televised speech.

Iraqis will go to the polls on October 10, a year ahead of schedule. The election was called to meet a demand of protesters who brought down the government of former Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. However, interest in the vote is low. Several parties from across the spectrum have announced they will not participate. All sides are questioning the legitimacy of the vote in an environment where powerful militias operate outside of government control, activists and election candidates are threatened, and the electoral commission and political elites are accused of fraud.

In a statement to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, head of the UN mission in Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert urged Iraqis to vote. One thing is certain, she said, “by not voting, you place yourself outside the electoral process. Events that affect you will only be shaped by others. As I said: by not casting your vote, you are gifting your silence to those you may disagree with.”

Sadr leads the Sairoon coalition and is known for changing his mind. He was among the first to speak up in January when the election was moved from June 6 to October 10, saying he would not accept any further delay. Sadr himself does not hold an elected position, but as leader of Sairoon, he wields heavy influence when it comes to government formation and agenda.

His decision was announced a day before Baghdad will host neighbor states for a regional summit.

There are a total of 3,249 candidates vying for 329 seats in the parliament. The official campaign period began on July 8, but has so far been lackluster.