Fiery cleric, paramilitary leader surge at Iraq elections

An Iraqi security member votes at a polling station in Baghdad

An Iraqi security member votes at a polling station in Baghdad

Prime Minister Hayder Abadi's faction may be a possibility, as Sadr has said it's possible they could form a government together. Abadi could be out of a job if Sadr, reportedly closer to Saudi Arabia than Iran, allies himself with Iranian proxies, such as Hadi al-Amiri. It says it will announce the remaining results Tuesday.

So far, the alliance of Hadi al-Ameri, a militia leader close to Tehran, is running second, while incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, the USA favorite, is in third.

Voter turnout reportedly reached 44.5 percent across Iraq's 18 provinces, the lowest in 13 years.

Among the traditional powerbrokers looking set to lose big at the election was divisive former premier Nuri al-Maliki, who remains widely reviled for the loss of territory to IS.

"We are ready to work and co-operate in forming the strongest government for Iraq, free of corruption", Abadi said in a live televised address.

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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.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi performed poorly across majority Shiite provinces that should have been his base of support.

The ranking of these blocs can still change with results yet to be announced from eight provinces, including Nineveh, which has the second-largest number of seats after Baghdad.

Forty-four year old Sadr will not become prime minister as he did not run in the election but his nearly certain victory puts him in a position to pick someone for the job.

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

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A document being circulated among journalists and analysts by a candidate in Baghdad showed Sadr had won the nationwide popular vote with over 1.3 million votes, followed by Amiri with over 1.2 million and Abadi with over 1 million.

"We continue to operate to defeat ISIS for the long-term and continue to support the Iraqi national security forces and help them to become a self-sufficient, sustainable entity, " said Eric Pahon, a spokesman for the Defense Department.

Members of the election commission read out vote tallies for each candidate list in 10 provinces on national TV.

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. Authorities are seeking as much as $88 billion for postwar reconstruction. Sadr's father, highly respected Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, was murdered in 1999 for defying Saddam Hussein.

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.

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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. Al-Ameri, like many Iraqis, has lashed out at the rampant corruption under successive governments.

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