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Al-Sadr refused to form a coalition with supporters of Iran

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Sadr, an opponent to both USA and Iranian influence in Iraq, was followed by Iran-backed Shia militia leader Hadi Al Amiri's coalition.

With most votes counted, a bloc headed by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and another led by a militia leader are ahead, voting officials are quoted as saying.

A political outlier before Saturday's ballot, Sadr is best known for leading the "fearsome" Mehdi Army in two insurgencies against USA troops in Iraq, following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Sadr is an Iraqi nationalist who opposes both the US and Iran meddling in Iraqi affairs.

On Tuesday, the prime minister called Sadr to congratulate him for the election victory, the cleric's office said.

Sadr has led two uprisings against U.S. forces in Iraq and is one of the few Shia leaders to distance himself from Iran.

Only 44.52 percent of about 24 million people eligible to vote participated in the consultation, a decrease of 15 percentage points, compared to 2014.

The elections commission has announced results from 16 of Iraq's 19 provinces.

Counting is still ongoing but Sadr's coalition - which is dominated by the Sadrist Movement and the Iraqi Communist Party - is believed to have won at least 54 of the 329-seat parliament, making it the largest political forces in the country, according to Al Jazeera. Former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a close ally of Iran like Amiri, came in fourth with around 25 seats.

But after 14 years, more than $1 trillion, millions of Iraqi dead and thousands of USA troops killed and maimed, the US now has less influence over Iraq than it had while former Central Intelligence Agency operative Saddam Hussein was in power.

Political sources told AFP that two meetings have been held under Iranian guidance to bring together several political blocs.

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