June 13 (UPI) -- The leader of Iraq's leading parliamentary coalition announced an unexpected alliance with a pro-Iranian political bloc to form a new government.
Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sairoon alliance that won Iraq's May 12 parliamentary elections with 54 seats, has been openly opposed to Iranian involvement in his country. Tuesday evening, however, Sadr said he was partnering with the Fatah coalition, led by Hadi al-Amirir -- a fluent Persian speaker and Iran's closest ally in Iraq.
Sadr, a former militia leader who led uprisings against the U.S. military presence in Iraq, once called for his country to be independent of both the United States and Iran.
"Our meeting was a very positive one, we met to end the suffering of this nation and of the people," Sadr said during a joint conference with Amiri. "Our new alliance is a nationalist one."
The two blocs won first and second place in the country's parliamentary elections last month. The new alliance marks the first steps towards forming a new government after weeks of negotiations between parties.
"Fatah and Sairoon announce forming the nucleus of the largest bloc and call on all winning blocs to participate in this alliance under a government programme agreed upon by all that is suitable to face the challenges, crises, and problems facing Iraq," the Fatah alliance said in a statement.
The alliance, at 101 seats, is still 64 seats short of the majority needed to form a government.
The announcement comes after a fire broke out at a Baghdad warehouse that stored ballots from the elections.
Four suspects, including three members of Iraq's police force and one employee of the country's election commission, were arrested earlier this week.
Although Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the blaze was part of a plot to sabotage the elections, he said he opposed holding another election.
"The matter is exclusively in the hands of the judiciary, not politicians," Abadi said. "The government and parliament don't have the power to cancel the election."
The prime minister added that there would be "no turning back" -- referring to some calls by Iraqi MPs to cancel the election results following Sunday's blaze.