Sadr headed for first place in Iraq election -commission

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

Saturday's balloting was the first since Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State.

Turnout was 44.52 percent with 92 percent of votes counted, the Independent High Electoral Commission said - significantly lower than in previous elections.

Since the first elections after the fall of Hussein in 2003, Iraqi voters have rarely strayed from their political bases, dutifully supporting candidates representing narrow religious or political beliefs.

The vote was widely seen as a verdict on Abadi's tenure and his pledge to be more inclusive of Iraq's Sunni minority.

Iraqi Prime Minister and head of the al-Nasr Coalition Haider al-Abadi has expressed his willingness to work and cooperate in forming a stable government free of corruption. His chief rivals are political parties with closer ties to Iran, as well as the influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a staunch nationalist who campaigned against government corruption. Sadr portrays himself as an Iraqi nationalist and is tired of Iranian support, thus he will be cautious of prompting a pro-Iranian figure.

Members of the national election commission read out vote tallies for each candidate list in each of the 10 provinces on national TV.

The other is Nuri al-Maliki, who served as prime minister for a total of eight years. His father, highly respected Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, was killed in 1999 for defying Saddam Hussein.

Sadr leads the al-Sairoon Coalition (The Marchers) that brings together his Sadrist Movement and the Iraqi Communist Party.

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The cleric made his name leading two revolts against U.S. forces in Iraq, drawing support from poor neighbourhoods of Baghdad and other cities.

Sadr formed the alliance with the CP in 2016, based on seeking increased positions and privilege through common denunciations of the appalling poverty that faces the working class.

The Iraqi air force has already carried out several air strikes against Islamic State in Syria since past year, with the approval of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and the US -led coalition fighting Islamic State.

Sadr is distrusted by both the United States and Iran for his active opposition to both countries. Those areas saw some of the lowest participation rates in the election.

After the announcement that the Marching Towards Reform was ahead in Baghdad, supporters took to the streets in the capital to celebrate early Monday.

Sadr is a ferocious critic of American policies in the Middle East, and his unexpected electoral haul immediately calls into question the continuing presence of US troops in Iraq. Amiri heads the Badr Organisation, an Iranian-linked Shiite fundamentalist movement that gave the greatest support to the USA occupation after 2003, alongside the PUK and other Kurdish nationalist parties.

The vote came 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.

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