Anti-US clericleads in Iraq polls

A man walks past a campaign poster of Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al Abadi ahead of the parliamentary election in Najaf

Modern Tokyo Times uttered two years ago, "The endless suffering in Iraq since outside meddling destabilized this nation to the core and created a vacuum for Sunni Takfiri sectarian groups, is now witnessing a fresh momentum from the Shia holy cleric Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr".

State television reported today that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the strike inside Syria.

Turnout in the election was 44.5 per cent - much lower than in previous elections.

The tallied votes included full returns from only 10 of the country's 19 provinces.

His statement, which sparked criticism by Iraqi figures, was referring to the electoral alliance between Sadr, the Iraqi Communist Party and other secular groups who joined protests organised by Sadr in 2016 to press the government to see through a move to stem endemic corruption. The commission gave no indication on when further results would be announced.

Observers predict Mr Abadi will try to form a deal with Mr Al Sadr, although the cleric's attitude towards Mr Al Abadi's bloc remain unknown.

According to the officials' latest announcement, the political coalition of Shia Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has an early lead. "This shows to some extent that this election was an anti-establishment balloting, the results are a very clear indictment of the political elite".

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The US-led coalition that helped battle IS pledged Sunday to work with the elected government to ensure the "lasting defeat" of IS and said the poll proved Iraqis "emphatically rejected violent extremism".

Despite overseeing the defeat of the terrorist group, whose fighters overran almost a third of Iraqi territory just weeks after he took office in the summer of 2014, Mr Abadi has failed to emerge as the clear favourite due to entrenched corruption and an economic downturn.

Numerous candidates on Fatah were militia commanders before they cut their official ties with the force in order to seek office.

Those rivals were his predecessor as prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, and the leader of the main Shi´ite paramilitary group, Hadi al-Amiri, both closer than he is to Iran, which has wide sway in Iraq as the primary Shi´ite power in the region.

Sadr's Mahdi Army militia fought US forces after the USA invasion of Iraq in 2003. A staunch nationalist, he has criticized foreign influence in Iraq and labelled the country's current political leadership as deeply corrupt.

The elections held Saturday were the first since Iraq declared victory over Islamic State fighters and the fourth since the 2003 US-led toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Leaks from the count indicated that Victory, the new party led by the incumbent prime minister, was on course to win the most MPs in the 328-seat parliament. He had no powerful political machine of his own when he took office.

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