Fiery cleric, paramilitary leader surge at Iraq elections

Voting for Parliamentary Elections Begins in Iraq

Iraqis voted on Saturday in the first election since the defeat of Islamic State (IS) militants inside the country.

The process of choosing the next prime minister is expected to take months and will likely result in power being dispersed across different political parties with clashing interests.

Following a trend common across the election this year, turnout has been low at around 44 percent.

The Conquest Alliance, made up of ex-fighters from mainly Iran-backed paramilitary units that battled the Islamic State group, was ahead in four provinces and second in eight others.

Sadrs ticket won the most seats in Iraqs parliamentary election, according to results from all 18 provinces released Monday, placing him in the best position to select the next prime minister and set the course for how the nation emerges from a costly war against the Islamic State.

However, his party's victory puts him in a position to pick someone for the job.

During the election campaign, frustrated Iraqis of all shades complained about their political elites systematic patronage, bad governance and corruption, saying they didn't receive any benefits of their country's oil wealth.

Fahmy told his party's website that Abadi was "closer" to Sadr's block than the other main contenders.

According to preliminary results on Kurdish outlet Rudaw, al-Sadr's coalition, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi's Nasr (Victory) Coalition, and Hadi al-Amiri's Fatih (Conquest) Coalition are now believed to be in a three-way tie. Endemic corruption has eaten at the governments financial resources. Authorities are seeking as much as $88 billion for postwar reconstruction.

"We, in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution, will take full responsibility to lead the country, protect it, and defend its unity, interest, and sovereignty until the formation of the new government", Abadi stated.

Celebrations erupted in Baghdad's Sadr City, an impoverished quarter that is home to about 3 million people and is named after the cleric's father, Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, who was killed by suspected agents of Saddam Hussein in 1999.

Supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr carry his image as they celebrate in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, on May 14.

The electoral surprise comes with tensions surging between the United States and Iran after Washington's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, sparking fears of a destabilising power struggle over Iraq. Incumbent Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, who had sought to reach across Iraq's sectarian divides, was trailing.

Al-Amiri's Fatah Coalition, now in second place, has close ties to Iran.

Sadr is one of the few Shia leaders to keep a distance from Iran, and instead shares Saudi interest in countering Iranian influence in Iraq.

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