May 15, 2018
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is facing a shock defeat in the country’s first election since declaring victory over Islamic State in December.
With more than half the votes counted, firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who is leading a coalition of groups including his own Istiqama (Integrity) party as well as secularist and communist candidates, has taken a clear lead.
Abadi, who is the preferred candidate of the US, looks set to come in third behind the Fatah (Conquest) alliance, led by former transport minister Hadi al-Amiri, who presides over the political wings of several Shia-led paramilitary forces.
However, Sadr’s coalition looks unlikely to win enough seats to form a government in its own right, and is likely to begin talks with other candidates to name a new prime minister. Since he did not run for a seat, he will not be eligible for the role.
A political outlier before Saturday’s ballot, Sadr is best known for leading the “fearsome” Mehdi Army in two insurgencies against US troops in Iraq, following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The Sadr-led army has also been blamed for “the killing of thousands of Sunni Muslims in the sectarian violence that plagued Iraq in 2006 and 2007”, says the BBC.
Sadr fled to Iran before a government crackdown on the Mehdi Army, but has since moved to distance himself from Iran. The Associated Press says he has “in recent years sought to recast himself as a populist, railing against corruption and failing services”.