World Media

Iraq elections thrown open as outsiders appear strong

Iraqis wait in a long line to cast their vote in the country's election at a polling site in a battle-damaged building in west Mosul. This is the first parliamentary election since the Islamic State group was driven from the city

As the final votes from the 2018 parliamentary election are counted and confirmed, it appears that a surprise comeback has been made; what is transpiring to be a major blow to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's reputation and campaign of secularism and inclusion, the popular populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has defied expectations and is leading the election.

Full results were due to be officially announced late on Monday but the early ballots of some 700,000 security personnel and diaspora remain uncounted, meaning Mr Al Abadi could still get a boost.

The results included Baghdad, where the Sadr-backed list won significantly more seats than Abadi's.

Supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr carry his image as they celebrate in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, on May 14.

Sadr has reinvented himself as an anti-graft crusader after rising to prominence as a powerful militia chief whose group waged a bloody insurgency against U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion.

"I call on Iraqis to respect the results of the elections", he said. More than 10 million Iraqis voted. And he has forged ties with countries including Saudi Arabia, which for years had strained relations with Iraq's Shiite-led government. Despite this, Abadi's Nasr (Victory) party did not prove victorious in Saturday's election.

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.

Abadi, a British-educated engineer who came to power four years ago after Islamic State seized a third of Iraq's territory, received USA military support for Iraq's army to defeat the Sunni Muslim militant group even as he gave free rein to Iran to back Shi'ite militias fighting on the same side.

The Iranian support of PMF is well known, and the Conquest bloc remains an important vehicle for Tehran to exert post-election influence including on the makeup of the future coalition government.

During four years in office, Prime Minister al-Abadi boasted about many achievements, including the defeat of the Islamic State and preventing a Kurdish bid for independence that would have broken the country into separate parts. His strong showing tapped into a deep vein of anger among Iraqis over poverty, ineffective public services, lack of jobs and rampant corruption. Other political leaders in Baghdad voted at the luxury Rasheed Hotel behind the concrete walls of the green zone, the seat of government power. Sadr, by contrast, has staked out an independent, nationalist position.