Iraqi Voters Strengthen Hand of Militia Leader Who Battled US

The strike, ordered by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, destroyed a building used as a command and logistics support center by the terror group, it said, Reuters reported. But with the vote tallied in 10 of the country's 19 provinces, he was in third, well behind both Sadr and an alliance of paramilitary factions, many of which are supported by Iran and led by Shiite militia leader Hadi Ameri.

While sectarianism may have dominated the Iraqi landscape in the past, the focus of most disenchanted Iraqis is on tackling widespread corruption, a faltering economy and the mammoth reconstruction effort after Daesh.

The ballots of some 700,000 security personnel who voted and Iraqis overseas 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. And he has forged ties with countries including Saudi Arabia, which for years had strained relations with Iraq's Shiite-led government. In 2010's election, vice-president Ayad Allawi's National Alliance won the largest number of seats but he was blocked from becoming prime minister, which he blamed on interference from Tehran. Sadr portrays himself as an Iraqi nationalist and a year ago met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia who is staunchly opposed to Iran.

Sadr is distrusted by both the United States and Iran for his active opposition to both countries.

Sadr derives much of his authority from his family. His father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, was a revered cleric who was assassinated, along with two of his sons, by Hussein's security forces in 1999. "This shows to some extent that this election was an anti-establishment balloting, the results are a very clear indictment of the political elite".

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.

Many of his supporters chanted "Iran out".

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, preferred by the US and credited for overseeing the crucial battle against Daesh as well as curtailing Kurdish independence ambitions, spearheads the Victory (Nasr) list.

He congratulated the people of Iraq and all the winning and leading lists in the elections process, expressing his full readiness "to work and cooperate to build and form the strongest Iraqi government".

But the defeat of Islamic State and Abadi's campaign to eradicate Iraq's rampant corruption improved his standing.

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.

Instead, former Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki was able to remain in power by forming a majority government with other blocs.

  • Rogelio Becker