Iraqi cleric Sadr's political allies go into opposition

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A parliamentary bloc backed by populist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on Saturday it would go into opposition until demands of anti-government protesters who flocked to the streets defying a violent security crackdown were met.

The Saeroon bloc - an alliance of Sadr’s followers, communists, and other parties - is the largest in Iraq’s fragmented parliament with 54 seats out of 329.

“The Saeroon parliamentary bloc announces that it will go into opposition inside the House of Representatives and declares a sit-in inside parliament until the protesters’ legitimate demands are met,” a spokesman said at a news conference.

Saeroon, which came first in the 2018 election, did not specify if its representatives would resign from government.

Sadr, a 45-year-old mercurial cleric who presents himself as a man of the people, is backing the ongoing wave of anti-government protests against corruption and economic hardship.

He issued a statement of support for the demonstrators earlier on Saturday as the overall death toll this month rose to more than 200. Protesters have called on Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign.

Abdul Mahdi was a compromise candidate between Sadr’s bloc and their main rivals, an alliance of Iran-backed Shi’ite militia leaders.

That alliance, Fatih, issued a statement on Saturday in support of security forces and called on the premier to be firmer in cracking down on protesters who resorted to violence.

Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Daniel Wallis