Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on his followers on Thursday to remain calm after an explosion killed 18 people in his main stronghold in Baghdad just hours after parliament called for a recount of votes in an election his bloc won.
Sadr, a nationalist who tapped growing resentment with Iran, scored a surprise victory in the May 12 vote by promising to fight corruption and improve services. He said in a statement that a committee would be formed to investigate the blast, with findings presented to him within three days. He called for "patience and self-control", the statement from his office said.
At least 18 people were killed and more than 90 wounded in Sadr City, a blast the Interior Ministry said was the result of the detonation of an ammunitions cache. Security forces have opened their own investigation.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement storing ammunition in a residential area was a crime and ordered the Interior Ministry to investigate the incident and take legal action against those who had done so. Some of Sadr's political opponents had suggested on social media the ammunitions cache belonged to his Saraya al-Salam (Peace Companies) militia.
Hours before the explosion, Iraq's parliament passed a law on Wednesday ordering a nationwide manual recount of votes in the parliamentary election, lawmakers said. The move could undermine Sadr, who has in the past mobilized tens of thousands of followers to protest against government policies. Sadr has always been seen as a wildcard in Iraq's turbulent politics, which is often driven by sectarianism.
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