Iraqi cleric Sadr calls for protest against Maliki's comeback

October 12, 2016 12:47 PM EDT

Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr delivers a sermon to worshippers during Friday prayers at the Kufa mosque near Najaf, Iraq September 23, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Wednesday called for a demonstration against a Iraqi court ruling that returns his bitter rival, ex-prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, to a vice-presidential position.

The ruling announced on Monday by Iraq's supreme court is "an attempt to bring back corruption", Sadr said in a statement on his website. He called for a protest to take place after the Shi'ite Muslim Ashura day of mourning on Wednesday, without setting a date.

Maliki took one of three ceremonial vice-presidencies two years ago, after he failed as prime minister to stop Islamic State fighters from sweeping across the country and was pressured to step down by both the United States and Iran.

The supreme court ruled against a decision last year by his successor, Prime Minister Haider Abadi, to scrap the three vice-presidencies, in what he said was an effort to cut costs after a collapse in oil prices curtailed national revenue.

Maliki served two four-year terms as prime minister and his conflict with Sadr goes back to the first, when he ordered the army to crack down on the cleric's militia in confrontations that left hundreds dead in Baghdad and southern Iraq.

His bloc in parliament in recent months has taken steps to investigate and dismiss ministers in Abadi's government, fueling speculation that Maliki is planning to return to power when Islamic State is defeated.

Iraqi forces are preparing an offensive to take back Mosul in northern Iraq, the last city under the control of Islamic State, with the backing of a U.S.-led coalition.

(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; editing by Andrew Roche)

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