Shi'ite cleric Sadr urges Iraq PM to press on with forming new cabinet

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Powerful Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr urged Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Friday to press on with plans to form an independent cabinet of technocrats to fight graft despite "political pressure" to desist.

Earlier Abadi asked political blocs in parliament and "influential social figures" to nominate technocrats as candidates for ministerial positions in the new cabinet, state television reported.

"I want the prime minister to continue his reform plan with no fear of political pressure," Sadr said in a pre-recorded speech aired during a demonstration held in Baghdad by his supporters to demand political reforms.It was not immediately clear whether Sadr had recorded his speech before or after the state television announcement on Abadi's call.

Last month Abadi, now a year and a half into his four-year term, said he wanted to replace his ministers with technocrats to challenge the system of patronage that encourages graft by distributing posts along political, ethnic and sectarian lines.

Sadr and his supporters have held regular demonstrations demanding reforms to tackle corruption, which is eating into Baghdad's resources even as it struggles with falling revenues due to a slump in global oil prices and high spending caused by the costs of war against Islamic State militants.

Sadr, heir to a Shi'ite clerical dynasty persecuted under dictator Saddam Hussein, said on Feb. 12 that Abadi had 45 days to deliver on his pledge of a technocrat cabinet or face a no-confidence vote in parliament.

(Reporting Saif Hameed. Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Gareth Jones)