5/16/2018

IRAQ''S SCORING ELECTIONS

 Moqtada Sadr

BAGHDAD : Populist Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr on Tuesday eyed a broad coalition after appearing to deal a blow to both Iranian and American influence with a shock election triumph that has upended Iraqi politics.

Counting was still ongoing three days after the first parliamentary poll since the defeat of the Islamic State group, but the fiery Shia preacher's grouping was in the lead with 16 to 18 provinces tallied.

Victory for the veteran nationalist's Marching Towards Reform alliance with Iraq's communists - pitched an anti-corruption outsider force - would be a slap in the face for Iraq's ruling establishment.

Sadr - who has ruled himself out of becoming prime minister - looks likely to be the key powerbroker and has already mooted a technocrat government of some dozen parties that bridge sectarian divides.

But with his group set to be far from a majority in parliament, wrangling over any potential coalition should take months - and there remains major obstacles ahead that could thwart Sadr's ambitions.

The elections on Saturday - hit by the record abstentions - saw a clear rejection of the Iraqi elite that has run the country since the ouster Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Sadr is one of the few Iraqi politicians who is opposed to both presence of American troops in Iraq and the influence Iran exercises over the country.

In a surprising pivot last year he visited Saudi Arabia to the south, with Riyadh looking to increase its involvement in Iraq as it view with Tehran.

Sadr is likely to face fierce opposition from other Iraqi political forces, who may look to coalesce in a bid to stop him taking control.

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