Cleric Who Led Uprising Against US Troops Wins Iraq Election

The populist Shiite cleric who led violent uprisings against U.S. troops has won a surprise victory in Iraq’s parliamentary elections, according to the country’s independent election agency.

With more than 90 percent of votes tallied from Saturday’s election, Moqtada al-Sadr is poised to take first place in Iraq’s first national election since the defeat of the Islamic State last year, beating out Iran-backed Shiite leader Hadi al-Amiri and incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

As of Tuesday morning, vote tallies had not been reported in two provinces where Sadr’s bloc did not run, but the results there will not affect the cleric’s standing, according to the Independent High Electoral Commission. Abadi has already called Sadr to congratulate the cleric on his bloc’s victory, reports Iraqi News.

Long seen as an inspirational political figure by Iraq’s poor, young Shiite masses, Sadr is best known in the West for leading mass uprisings against the American occupation of Iraq following the 2003 invasion. His Mahdi Army — which numbered up to 10,000 at one point — carried out the first organized Shiite attacks against U.S. forces. The Sadr-led insurgency was so effective that U.S. troops were ordered to kill or capture him.

The Mahdi Armby was disbanded in 2008, but reconstituted in 2014 to battle the ISIS insurgency that had overrun much of Iraq.

Sadr’s victory shocked much of Iraq’s political class and could have major implications for the country’s relationships with the U.S. and its neighbor, Iran. Unlike Abadi, who has managed to maintain good relations with the U.S. and Iran, Sadr is vehemently opposed to both countries. Projecting himself as an Iraqi nationalist, he has railed against Iranian influence in Iraq’s politics, which has grown since Tehran-backed militias played a key role in driving out ISIS.

Saturday’s national elections were originally scheduled for September 2017, but had to be postponed due to the war against ISIS that ended in victory in December. The vote will decide the 329 members of the Council of Representatives — Iraq’s parliament — who will then elect a president and prime minister.

The election was marked by low turnout — Sadr won the nationwide popular vote with over 1.3 million votes, gaining 54 seats in parliament, according to a Reuters analysis. Amiri came in second with 1.2 million votes, roughly 47 seats, and Abadi came in third with more than 1 million votes, or about 42 seats.

Sadr cannot become prime minister, as he did not run as a candidate himself. However, his victory puts him in a position to hand-select an ally for the job.

Sadr’s bloc must also negotiate a coalition government to majority in parliament. Ahead of the election, he promised to form a coalition with secular Sunnis and Iraq’s Communist Party, though he will face resistance from Iran, which wants to see ally Amiri take the prime minister’s job.

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