Fiery cleric leads in Iraq election surprise

Fiery cleric leads in Iraq election surprise

Fiery cleric leads in Iraq election surprise

A Sadr victory would mark a surprise comeback by the cleric, who has a strong following among the young, poor and dispossessed, but he's recently been sidelined by influential Iranian-backed figures.

An alliance of candidates with close ties to Iraq's powerful Shiite paramilitary groups are in a close second while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has performed poorly across majority Shiite provinces that should have been his base of support.

On May 12, people across Iraq and the Kurdistan Region took part in national legislative elections, the first since the defeat of the Islamic State.

Turnout was 44.52% with 92% of votes counted, the Independent High Electoral Commission said - significantly lower than in previous elections.

Election officials said that full final results could be announced in the next 24 hours.

The surprisingly strong showing of a ticket backed by maverick Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraqi elections over the weekend will force United States officials to recalculate how best to pursue American interests in the region at an especially sensitive moment.

Throw Iranians out, Israel Minister to Syria
Its backing of radical groups such as Hezbollah, the Palestinian militant organization Hamas, and the Houthi Rebels is another. Iranian targets have repeatedly been hit inside Syria in recent weeks in attacks thought to have been conducted by Israel.

The electoral surprise comes with tensions surging between the U.S. and Iran after Washington's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, sparking fears of a destabilising power struggle over Iraq. Instead, the bloc that wins the most seats will have to bring together a majority by getting the support of smaller alliances.

Members of the Iraqi security forces stand guard as people queue in front of a polling station in the Wadi Hajar district of Mosul on May 12, 2018, still partially in ruins from the devastating months-long fight to oust the Islamic State (IS) group. While Sadr is unlikely to totally disavow any of Iraq's allies, both the United States and Iran will be sad to see more easily controlled leaders replaced with more independent ones, and that could have a long-term drag on relations.

If parliament does grant him a second term, Abadi will remain under pressure to maintain the balancing act between Washington and Tehran. The dissident-turned-militia leader spent more than two decades fighting Saddam from exile in Iran.

The results unexpectedly showed former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who was touted as a serious challenger to Abadi, lagging behind.

As a result, he can argue that he is the only credible politician representing a "national coalition" - but he would so from a much weaker position, said Kirk Sowell, the publisher of Inside Iraqi Politics, a newsletter.

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