Early results announced for Iraq election

Howard TerryMay 15, 2018

Nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a long-time adversary of the United States, led in Iraq's parliamentary election with more than half the votes counted on Monday, the electoral commission said, in a surprise turn of fortune for the Shia leader.

The strike was ordered by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Remembered for leading an insurgency against US forces and inciting sectarian bloodshed against the Sunni population, al-Sadr has in recent years sought to recast himself as a populist, railing against corruption and failing services and striking a political alliance with Iraq's secularists and Communist Party. At the moment, the final result isn't known but it appears that his showing is higher than many people expected. In the years after 2003 invasion of Iraq, Sadr and the militia he controlled became a major thorn in the side of United States military, waging a brutal and costly insurgency against coalition troops.

"Everyone is concerned, we just don't know what to expect", said a Western diplomat who asked to remain anonymous to discuss Iraqi politics. He portrays himself as an Iraqi nationalist and a year ago met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia who is staunchly opposed to Iran.

With results counted in more than half of Iraq's 19 provinces, electoral officials said the second-largest number of votes went to a political alliance led by Hadi al-Amiri, a former militia leader with strong ties to Iran.

The preliminary results were based on a count of more than 91% of the votes cast in 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

But despite improved security, Iraq was still struggling to rebuild itself after four years of war against IS, the report said.

The ballots of some 700,000 security personnel who voted and some one million Iraqis overseas were yet to be tallied up, meaning Abadi could get a boost five months after he announced victory over ISIS.

"We are ready to work and cooperate in forming the strongest government for Iraq, free of corruption", Abadi said in a live televised address. Endemic corruption has eaten at the government's financial resources. His movement also benefited from instructions by Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The ballot Saturday saw a record low turnout, as only 44.5 percent of eligible voters headed to the polls in the lowest participation rate since the 2003 US-led ouster of Saddam Hussein.

Any coalition backed by Sadr will be unlikely to include Maliki, a bitter enemy.

Winning the largest number of seats does not automatically guarantee that Sadr will be able to hand-pick a prime minister.

Two Iraqi anti-establishment alliances appeared set to create an upset Monday as partial results showed them leading in a parliamentary election, ahead of the incumbent prime minister's bloc.

Amid the ongoing offensive against terrorists in Syria, Iraqi air forces have destroyed a Daesh command and logistics support center in the country, state media reported Monday.

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