Sadr takes surprise lead in Iraq polls

Erika Holt
May 15, 2018

Al-Abadi sought to retain his post as prime minister after overseeing the military defeat of the IS movement, but faced stiff competition from his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, as well as al-Sadr and the Fatah alliance of candidates with paramilitary ties. In the first election since Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) was defeated in the country, Shiite militia chief Hadi al-Amiri's bloc, which is backed by Iran, was in second place. That turnout was sharply down from about 70% in 2005, when Iraqis held their first election after the demise of Saddam Hussein's regime.

As in Muqtada al Sadr, the Shiite cleric who is best known as a one-time - and possibly future - US foe who may have finally outfoxed the Americans, Iranians, and Iraq's political elite to become the supreme political power in Iraq.

He leads the Revolutionaries for Reform Alliance (al-Sairoon) and his strong following amongst the working class will have a major say in the formation of any government in the coming days.

But his spokesman said Sadr supports honoring commitments between Iraq and the United States concerning the training of Iraq's security forces and weapons purchases as long as they serve Iraq's interests and there "is no interference on the sovereignty of Iraq".

In what could be a shock to Iraq's political system 15 years after the USA invasion, the firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr appears to have gained a large number of votes in Saturday's parliamentary elections, potentially placing him in a kingmaker role as the major winners of the vote try to piece together a governing coalition over the next few weeks.

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

"No country can withstand such onslaught", al-Abadi told TIME in January, during an interview in the Republican Palace in Baghdad.

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On Saturday, Iraqis voted in the country's first parliamentary election since 2014. Sadr, by contrast, has staked out an independent, nationalist position.

Sadr surprised allies and opponents alike with his strong showing across the majority of Iraqi provinces, where voters responded to his message of fighting corruption and reforming Iraqs patronage-heavy political system. Authorities are seeking as much as $88 billion for postwar reconstruction. Reuters calculations based on the document showed Sadr had won the nationwide popular vote with over 1.3 million votes and gained around 54 of parliament's 329 seats. The coalition has pushed an anti-corruption and anti-sectarian campaign.

Whoever wins the election will have to contend with the fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to quit the Iran nuclear deal, a move Iraqis fear could turn their country into a theatre of conflict between Washington and Tehran.

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

Until a new prime minister is chosen, al-Abadi will remain in office, retaining all his power.

Sadr's father, highly respected Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, was murdered in 1999 for defying Saddam Hussein.

Abadi's record on the economy failed to convince Iraqis as the country embarks on the mammoth task of rebuilding after the war against IS.

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