Thursday, 24 May, 2018

Fiery cleric leader surge at Iraq elections

Firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr whose militia killed British and US troops during Iraq War leads race to be country's Iraq election thrown wide open as outsider alliances show strength
Andrew Cummings | 15 May, 2018, 15:23

Populist Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's electoral alliance is nearly certainly headed for first place in Iraq's parliamentary election with 91 percent of votes counted in 16 out of Iraq's 18 provinces, the election commission said on Monday.

In the first election since the defeat of ISIS in the country, Iran-backed Shiite militia chief Hadi al-Amiri's bloc was in second place, while current Iraq PM Haider al-Abadi trailed in third.

The ballot 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.

Election officials said that full final results could be announced in the next 24 hours.

Muqtada al-Sadr's Marching Towards Reform alliance of reformed Shia militants and communists came first in four of the 10 provinces counted. Authorities are seeking as much as $88 billion for postwar reconstruction.

After the announcement that the Marching Towards Reform was ahead in Baghdad, supporters took to the streets in the capital to celebrate early on May 14. After the 2003 United States invasion, Mr Al Sadr formed the Mehdi army militia to fight American troops and later commanded his paramilitary forces against ISIS.

Abadi's supporters and opponents had considered his ticket the most likely to prevail in the election and secure him a second term as prime minister.

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The Iranians must deal with the consequences of the American withdrawal and the pressure that will be exerted on them. Iran could directly attack Israel or alternatively activate its proxy Hezbollah.

Tensions in the region have mounted - and in particular between the United States and Iran - partly because of President Trump's decision last week to withdraw the United States from the nuclear deal with Tehran.

He was viewed as a frontrunner before the election.

"We are ready to work and cooperate in forming the strongest government for Iraq, free of corruption", Abadi said in a live televised address. The family has long seen themselves as representing a rival Iraqi seat of Shia learning and influence to Tehran.

Across the war-scarred nation people railed against the same old faces who they accuse of corruption and sectarianism.

Amiri's Badr organisation played a key role in the battle against Islamic State. The dissident-turned-militia leader spent more than two decades fighting Saddam from exile in Iran. The Prime Minister is ahead in just one province, AFP figures showed.

Projecting himself as an Iraqi nationalist, Sadr has a zealous following among the young, poor and dispossessed, but he had been sidelined by influential Iran-backed figures.

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