Shiite Cleric Sadr Takes Surprise Lead In Iraq Parliamentary Election

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The parliamentary elections on Saturday serve as the first national referendum since the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in 2017.

The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) had announced the elections results of 10 Iraqi provinces on Sunday night where influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appeared to be leading the polls.

The election was marked by record low turnout.

Meanwhile a new diplomatic meeting on Syria opened on Monday morning in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, with the participation of the main regional powers and actors involved in the conflict, broadcaster Al Arabiya reports. Winning the largest number of seats does not automatically guarantee that, however. He rose to prominence in Iraq after the 2003 USA -led overthrow of Saddam Hussein when he commanded a militia that fought American troops.

But Sadr has grown increasingly pragmatic over the years and formed a cross-sectarian electoral alliance emphasizing Iraqi nationalism over loyalty to Iranian clerics and American military and political backing. Iran has publicly stated it would not allow his bloc to govern. The elections were held Saturday, with low turnout.

On May 6, Abadi's office said in a statement that the 66-year-old prime minister had ordered the "painful strike" which targeted "a meeting of Daesh commanders south of al-Dushashiya region in Syrian territory". "We are ready to work and cooperate in forming the strongest government for Iraq that's free of corruption", Mr Al Abadi said. While going from that to a 165-seat majority is a long road, Sadr's election performance, and decisive victory in Baghdad district, shows a major shift in Iraqi politics.

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PM Abadi heads the Nasr Coalition (Victory of Iraq), its name capitalising on his government's victory over ISIL in 2017. His fathers cousin, Mohammed Baqir, 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 while carrying his picture and waving Iraqi flags.

Abadi - who came to power as ISIL swept across Iraq in 2014 - has been a consensus figure who balanced off the United States and Iran.

The election came as the country deals with the disenfranchisement of the country's Sunni minority.

In this election, many voters abandoned their traditional divisions and supported two new political movements groups that promised to tackle a pervasive everyday problem: corruption.

A Pentagon spokesman told Eric Pahon that the US government does not support any particular Iraqi candidate or party.

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