Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has in a statement on Friday instructed allied lawmakers to suspend participation in all parliament activities until the government introduces a program acceptable to the people.

The influential Shia cleric’s Sairoon political bloc won the largest single bloc of seats in last year’s election with 54 in the 329-seat parliament.

Sadr’s position came after Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, earlier on Friday sharply criticized the Iraqi government in the wake of deadly violence sweeping the country, urging both political leaders and protesters to back down “before it is too late.”

On Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi had called on lawmakers to support him to reshuffle cabinet posts and urged calm in a televised speech on state TV.

The Prime Minister said the protesters' “legitimate demands” had been heard and they should go home, adding that the security measures used against the demonstrations were like "bitter medicine" that needs to be swallowed.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces opened fire on dozens of protesters gathering in Baghdad for a fourth day of demonstrations against corruption, unemployment, and poor public services.