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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

Iraq issues more than 20 arrest warrants over blast in Sadr's Baghdad stronghold

The explosion last week killed 18 people and wounded more than 90 

Iraqis gather at the explosion location at an arms depot in Baghdad's Sadr city, Iraq, 07 June 2018. At least 18 people were killed and dozens wounded after an arms depot belonging to Iraqi Shiite military group Saraya al-Salam exploded in the Sadr City district of the Iraqi capital late on 06 June 2018, security and medical sources said. Ahmed Ali / EPA
Iraqis gather at the explosion location at an arms depot in Baghdad's Sadr city, Iraq, 07 June 2018. At least 18 people were killed and dozens wounded after an arms depot belonging to Iraqi Shiite military group Saraya al-Salam exploded in the Sadr City district of the Iraqi capital late on 06 June 2018, security and medical sources said. Ahmed Ali / EPA

Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council has issued arrest warrants for 20 people accused of involvement in a deadly blast in the Baghdad stronghold of Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, whose bloc won an election marred by fraud accusations, state TV reported.

The orders came a week after the blast killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 90 in the Sadr City district. The interior ministry said an ammunition cache had exploded and called it "a terrorist aggression on civilians".

Officials said weapons had been stored inside a mosque, which is frequented by supporters of Mr Al Sadr. Those supporters once formed a formidable resistance to American troops in the years after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later fought against ISIS.

Nationalist Mr Sadr and Iranian-backed paramilitary chief Hadi Al Ameri, who won first and second place respectively in the May vote, announced on Tuesday an alliance between their blocs.

The alliance announced from the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf is the first serious step towards forming a new government after weeks of negotiations between parties.

It could also ease tensions that some Iraqi officials fear could lead to an intra-Shiite civil war. Mr Al Ameri, widely described as Tehran's man in Iraq, is one of the most powerful figures in the country, a key US ally and major oil producer.

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Iraq's Al Sadr rules out alliance with Tehran's allies in Baghdad

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The election has been a test for both Mr Sadr and Iran.

Tehran is under pressure to maintain its deep influence in Iraq – its most important Arab ally – after the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal, and its Houthi allies in Yemen face the biggest offensive yet from a Saudi-led coalition.

Mr Sadr, who once led violent campaigns against the US occupation that ended in 2011, has emerged as a nationalist opponent of powerful Shiite parties allied with neighbouring Iran and as a champion of the poor.

He has to tread carefully.

Tehran, known for its pragmatism, has skillfully manipulated the formation of Iraq governments in the past and its militia allies are the most powerful forces in the country.

The Sadr-Ameri alliance may serve the purposes of the most powerful sides in Iraqi politics as the country tries to rebuild from the devastating war against ISIS.

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