Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr and an amalgam made up of pro-Iranian militia led by Hadi al Ameri surge in surprise results from Iraq's national election. Horse-trading likely before a premier and a coalition government is installed.

Widespread disillusionment with Iraq's current political class appears to have helped the political coalition of  Muqtada al Sadr become the early front-runner in national elections.
Widespread disillusionment with Iraq's current political class appears to have helped the political coalition of Muqtada al Sadr become the early front-runner in national elections. (AFP)

An alliance headed by a Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr and a rival bloc of pro-Iranian former fighters appeared to surge on Monday in surprise preliminary results from Iraq's first poll since the defeat of the Daesh group.

If confirmed, the outcome would throw open the race to become the next prime minister, as internationally favoured incumbent Haider al Abadi lagged behind after a vote hit by record abstentions.

According to partial results, the Marching Towards Reform alliance of Shia cleric Sadr and his communist allies was ahead in six of Iraq's 18 provinces and second in four others.

Sadr has reinvented himself as an anti-graft crusader after rising to prominence as a powerful militia chief whose fighters battled US troops after the 2003 invasion.

While long railing against the US, Sadr has also distanced himself from its key rival Iran, drawing closer to regional Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

Hadi al-Amiri is the head of one of Iraq’s most powerful Shia paramilitary groups backed by Tehran, whose forces ended up battling alongside the US to oust Daesh militants.
Hadi al-Amiri is the head of one of Iraq’s most powerful Shia paramilitary groups backed by Tehran, whose forces ended up battling alongside the US to oust Daesh militants. (AFP Archive)

Iran-backed alliance second in line

Next in the running is the Conquest Alliance, made up of ex-fighters from mainly Iran-backed paramilitary units that battled Daesh, with results putting them ahead in four provinces and second in eight others.

The head of the list is Hadi al Ameri, a long-time ally of Tehran, whose forces ended up battling alongside the US to oust the militants.

Both Sadr and Ameri are long-time political veterans well-known to Iraqis, but they pitched themselves as seeking to sweep clean the country's reviled elite.

The complex electoral arithmetic of the Iraqi system, however, means that the final makeup of 329-seat parliament is still far from decided.

The electoral commission released results from 10 of the country's 19 provinces, including the provinces of Baghdad and Basra. The commission gave no indication on when further results would be announced.

The ballots of some 700,000 security personnel who voted and Iraqis abroad were yet to be tallied up, meaning Abadi could get a boost five months after he announced victory over Daesh, in a voting that saw a turnout of 44 percent. 

Whatever the outcome, there looks set to be lengthy horse-trading between the main political forces before any new premier and a coalition government can be installed.

Sadr — who did not stand as a candidate and therefore cannot become premier — appears in pole position to play kingmaker after years on the sidelines.

Among the traditional power-brokers 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 Daesh.

'Done with corruption'

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.

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

Whoever emerges as premier will face the mammoth task of rebuilding a country left shattered by the battle against Daesh — with donors already pledging $30 billion.

Over two million people remain internally displaced across the country and Daesh — while weakened — still has the capability to launch deadly attacks.

The election came as the country deals with the disenfranchisement of the country's Sunni minority. Of the total displaced by the war, the majority are Sunnis. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies