Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr speaks in Najaf, 160 km south of Baghdad on February 18, 2014. Image Credit: Reuters

Baghdad: Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr on Tuesday slammed Iraq’s government as corrupt and headed by a “tyrant” while calling on citizens to vote, days after announcing his exit from politics.

The televised speech seem aimed at establishing the cleric, whose political career began in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion with his fierce criticism of the presence of foreign troops, as a figure above the everyday Iraqi political fray.

“Politics became a door for injustice and carelessness, and the abuse and humiliation of the rule of a dictator and tyrant who controls the funds, so he loots them ... and the cities, so he attacks them, and the sects, so he divides them,” Sadr said.

He was apparently referring to Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, whom he has repeatedly criticised in the past.

Al Sadr called on Iraqis to vote in parliamentary elections that are now a little more than two months away.

Iraqis “must participate in these elections in a major way, so that the government does not fall into the hands of the dishonest,” Al Sadr said.

He also reaffirmed his assertion, first made in a written statement released last weekend, that he was separating himself from his powerful political movement, which holds dozens of parliamentary seats and six ministerial posts.

“I will remain for all — not for the Sadrists only, for I dedicated myself to Iraq and to Islam,” Al Sadr said in comments indicating he still aims to play an influential role in the future Iraqi political scene.

Al Sadr’s rise was aided by the reputations of two famed relatives — including his father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Mohammad Sadiq Al Sadr — who were killed during Saddam Hussain’s rule.

Al Sadr was also the commander of the Mahdi Army, a widely-feared militia that battled US forces and played a key role in the brutal Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict in which thousands of people were killed.

He later suspended the militia’s activities, and in recent years, his focus has increasingly shifted to religious studies in both Iran and Iraq that have taken him out of the country for extended periods of time.