Fiery cleric Sadr taps anger over Iran to lead Iraq poll

Sergio Conner
May 15, 2018

Sadr's ascendancy comes at the expense of incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the preferred candidate of the United States, who came in third overall.

It could take the next few weeks, and maybe months, for al-Abadi or al-Sadr to form a governing coalition.

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

Mustering a government the people can trust and that can heal the great ethnosectarian divide is no easy feat and nearly 7,000 candidates from dozens of rival alliances vying for just 329 seats in the assembly, sums up this hard undertaking.Even the unified Shiite parliamentary bloc, led by the Dawa Party, which allowed current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to assume power from Nouri al-Maliki in 2014 has splintered into five competing factions.

But the defeat of Islamic State and Abadi's campaign to eradicate Iraq's rampant corruption improved his standing.

The Iraqi air force has already carried out several air strikes against Islamic State in Syria since a year ago, with the approval of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and the USA -led coalition fighting Islamic State.

"He chose to surround himself with Dawa people", said political analyst Hisham al-Hashimi. While former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance hopes to garner enough votes to affect the post-election coalition calculus.One common theme among the coalition blocs is the attempt to portray their blocs as cross-sectarian.

The ballot saw a record low turnout, as only 44.5% of eligible voters headed to the polls in the lowest participation rate since the 2003 US-led ouster of Saddam Hussein. Winning the largest number of seats does not automatically guarantee that, however.

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"We are ready to work and cooperate in forming the strongest government for Iraq, free of corruption", he said in a televised address.

"With the current institutions, it is hard to rebuild Iraq, given the widespread bureaucracy and corruption", al-Ameri told TIME in Baghdad last January. Endemic corruption has eaten at the government's financial resources.

Sadr is the only Iraqi Shi'ite leader who has challenged both Iran and the United States, a calculation that appears to have made him popular with millions of poor Shi'ites who felt they hadn't benefited from their government's close ties to Tehran or Washington. Fahmy told his party's website that Abadi's bloc was "closer" to Sadr's than others.

He derives much of his authority from his family.

His father's cousin, Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr, was killed by Saddam in 1980.

Celebrations erupted on the streets of Baghdad after the commission's announcement, with thousands of Sadr's supporters singing, chanting, dancing and setting off fireworks in the capital while carrying his picture and waving Iraqi flags.

The decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to end the Iran Nuclear deal just days before the Iraqi elections would only stoke the fire. That they were able to express themselves democratically is even more encouraging.

Sadr has always been viewed by the US and Iraqi government officials seen as an unpredictable maverick. If parliament does grant him a second term, Abadi will remain under pressure to maintain the balancing act between Washington and Tehran.

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