Populist cleric Sadr all but wins Iraq parliament election

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While incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was considered the most likely victor, the alliance of populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has very hard relationships with the United States, is the likely victor in a surprise twist, according to preliminary results based on more than 91 percent of the votes cast in 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

"Iran perceives Sadr as an unstable entity. and the USA does not see him as an ally. there are unpredictable scenarios now surrounding the formation of the new government".

Over the weekend, Iraqis voted in the first general election since the country declared victory over Islamic State previous year.

Unlike Abadi, a rare ally of both the United States and Iran, Sadr is an opponent of both countries, which have wielded influence in Iraq since a US -led invasion toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 and thrust the Shiite majority into power.

On Tuesday, Abadi telephoned Sadr to congratulate him on winning the elections victory.

Preliminary results showed that Iranian-backed al-Ameri's bloc was in second place, while al-Abadi's Victory Alliance was third.

"So we will wait and see the results - the final results of the election".

After years on the sidelines, he has now reinvented himself as a crusading champion of the poor who has linked up with secularists to battle corruption.

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Explaining the factors behind Sadr's victory, the Reformist daily noted, "Muqtada al-Sadr, who has lately shifted his policies and turned to Riyadh, took advantage of combating corruption in his competition with his rivals and also maintained his own traditional supporters".

"Given the unexpected results that Nasr achieved, the chance of Abadi becoming the [next] prime minister has decreased, especially since the [coalition] under his leadership came in fifth in Baghdad", argued Tasnim.

"We have tried all the others", Jamal insisted.

Sadr is one of the few Iraqi politicians who is opposed to both the presence of American troops in Iraq and the overbearing influence neighbouring Iran exercises over the country.

In a sign that he is angling to chart a different course, he visited regional Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia a year ago, as Tehran's rival seeks to play a greater role in Iraq.

According to Kurdistan 24, a source close to the government said that Soleimani appeared to be trying to persuade Amiri to ally himself with al-Maliki saying, "It seems that they want to isolate Sadr".

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

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