Published: Mon, May 14, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

Firebrand nationalist cleric Sadr leads Iraq election

Firebrand nationalist cleric Sadr leads Iraq election

The race to become Iraq's next prime minister appeared wide open Monday as two outsider alliances looked to be in the lead after the first elections since the defeat of the Islamic State group.

Less than 45% of eligible Iraqi voters cast ballots in an election that could tip a delicate balance between USA interests and those of Iraq's influential neighbor, Iran.

With most votes counted, a bloc headed by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and another led by a militia leader are ahead, the BBC quoted poll officials as saying. Zeid al-Zamili, 33, described the vote as "a victory over the corrupt" and a "new chapter for the Iraqi people".

A document being circulated among journalists and analysts by a candidate in Baghdad showed Sadr had won the nationwide popular vote with over 1.3 million votes, followed by Amiri with over 1.2 million and Abadi with over 1 million. Among them was Nineveh, with the second-highest number of seats being contested. Results are expected within the next 48 hours according to the independent body that oversees Iraq's election, but negotiations to choose a prime minister tasked with forming a government are expected to drag on for months.

When final figures are released later on May 14, the results could offer a significant indication of whether Iraq's government will continue its longstanding ties to the United States and the West under Abadi or whether it will tilt more toward Iran. All three posts are chosen by parliament. Saturday's vote — the fourth since the 2003 USA -led toppling of Saddam Hussein — was marked by reports of low turnout and irregularities.

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The militia was disbanded in 2008 and replaced by his Peace Brigades, which helped push back Islamic State (IS) militant forces from areas near Baghdad in 2014 along with Iraqi government troops. Sadr's father, highly respected Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, was murdered in 1999 for defying Saddam Hussein.

If the Sadr list finished second, that would mark a surprise comeback by the cleric.

Al-Sadr himself did not run in the election, but he holds sway over a coalition ticket that won by a large margin in the capital Baghdad.

The electoral commission of Iraq announced that 44.5 percent of those eligible had cast their ballots in the elections.

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