Published: Tue, May 15, 2018
Global Media | By Abel Hampton

Iraqi cleric who fought U.S. troops leads in election

Iraqi cleric who fought U.S. troops leads in election

Mustering a government the people can trust and that can heal the great ethnosectarian divide is no easy feat and nearly 7,000 candidates from dozens of rival alliances vying for just 329 seats in the assembly, sums up this hard undertaking.Even the unified Shiite parliamentary bloc, led by the Dawa Party, which allowed current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to assume power from Nouri al-Maliki in 2014 has splintered into five competing factions.

Influential Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, with realignment as a cross-sectarian anti-Iranian and pro-Arab nationalist figure, is a counterweight to the Conquest bloc and seemed the victor of the elections before this piece published.

An official at the US State Department remained coy ahead of the definitive tally, telling Agence France-Presse "we are awaiting the announcement of the official results and look forward to the formation of the new government".

Partial returns from Saturday's balloting -the first since Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State militant group -were announced by the country's electoral commission and put al-Sadr's political alliance in the lead in six provinces, including Baghdad.

Voter turnout reportedly reached 44.5 percent across Iraq's 18 provinces, the lowest in 13 years.

Dozens of alliances ran for office in these elections and months of negotiations are expected before any one alliance can pull together the 165 required seats.

Sadr, known for leading a militia that carried out deadly attacks on USA forces after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, did not run as a candidate himself and has no formal political role.

An election commission source said Abadi's Nasr (Victory) coalition was the frontrunner, followed by another Shiite bloc headed by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, a close ally of Iran like Amiri, came in fourth with around 25 seats.

Supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr carry his image as they celebrate in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, on May 14.

Abadi was viewed as a frontrunner before the election. Al-Sadr is a staunch foe of Iranian and American influence in Iraqi politics.

For months a year ago, Sadr gathered his followers to protest at the gates of Baghdad's barricaded Green Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government.

Sadr derives much of his authority from his family.

"For the first time I can say congratulations to the leader and congratulations to the Iraqi people, congratulations on winning first place in Baghdad, and God willing we will be the first in Iraq", said Abbas Allawi, a candidate on the Sadr-backed Sairoon list. His allies campaigned on issues such as easing poverty, improving public services and combating corruption.

Celebrations erupted in Baghdad's Sadr City, an impoverished quarter that is home to some 3 million people and is named after the cleric's late father, Ayatollah Mohammad Sadq al-Sadr.

Seats in parliament will be allocated proportionally to coalitions once all votes are counted.

The election came as the country deals with the disenfranchisement of the country's Sunni minority.

Abadi was seen by some Iraqis as lacking charisma and ineffective.

He invited a US-led coalition to help roll back the jihadists and kept up good ties with Tehran.

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