Arab Times

Abadi seen ahead

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BAGHDAD, May 13, (RTRS): Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s list appears to be leading in Iraq’s parliament­ary election, followed by influentia­l Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s alliance, an election commission source and a security official told Reuters on Sunday. The sources cited unofficial initial results. Iraqis voted on Saturday in the first election since the defeat of Islamic State militants inside the country. Final results are expected on Monday.

Turnout was 44.52 percent with 92 percent of votes counted, the Independen­t High Electoral Commission said — significan­tly lower than in previous elections. Results are due to be officially announced on Monday.

Abadi, a rare ally of both the United States and Iran, was mainly concerned with fending off Shi’ite Muslim groups other than Sadr’s alliance, which are seeking to pull the country closer to Tehran.

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.

Unofficial results compiled by Reuters reporters in southern provinces also indicated that Sadr, a firebrand cleric who led a violent uprising against US troops from 2003-2011, appeared to be making a strong showing.

If the Sadr list finished second, that would mark a surprise comeback by the cleric. Sadr has a zealous following among the young, poor and dispossess­ed but has been sidelined by influentia­l Iranian-backed figures such as Amiri. Sadr has kept Tehran at a distance.

Sadr has formed an unlikely alliance with communists and other independen­t secular supporters who joined protests he organised in 2016 to press the government to see through a move to stem endemic corruption.

He derives much of his authority from his family. Sadr’s father, highly respected Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, was murdered in 1999 for defying Saddam Hussein. His father’s cousin, Mohammed Baqir, was killed by Saddam in 1980.

Whoever wins the election will have to contend with the fallout from US President Donald Trump’s decision to quit Iran’s nuclear deal, a move Iraqis fear could turn their country into a theatre of conflict between Washington and Tehran.

Abadi, who came to power four years ago after Islamic State seized a third of Iraqi territory, received US military support for Iraq’s army to defeat the Sunni Muslim militant group even as he gave free rein to Iran to back Shi’ite militias fighting on the same side.

If parliament chooses him as prime minister, Abadi will remain under pressure to maintain that balancing act amid tensions between Washington and Tehran over the nuclear accord.

Abadi, a British-educated engineer, was seen by some Iraqis as lacking charisma and ineffectiv­e. He had no powerful political machine of his own when he took office.

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

Even if Abadi’s Victory Alliance wins the most seats, he still must negotiate a coalition government, which must be formed within 90 days of the election.

Amiri’s Badr organisati­on played a key role in the battle against Islamic State. But some Iraqis resent his close ties to Tehran. The dissident-turnedmili­tia leader spent more than two decades fighting Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran.

His list is expected to come in third place, according to the election commission source and security official.

No sooner had polls closed in Iraq’s Kurdish city of Sulaimaniy­a than anger at an unexpected sweep for its maligned dominant party boiled over. Gunfire between rival militias quickly erupted.

The nighttime clashes had subsided by Sunday morning as Iraq’s election commission tallied the final results of a nationwide legislativ­e vote.

But Kurdish opposition parties, backed by their gunmen, demand another vote amid accusation­s of fraud. In this climate, many fear that Iraq’s northern Kurdish-majority areas might turn into a factional battlegrou­nd.

The clashes in Sulaimaniy­a, heartland of the Iran-allied Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party (PUK), were an immediate sign of internecin­e struggles that are feared after Iraq’s first election following the defeat of Islamic State.

After the Saturday vote Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appears marginally ahead in a tight race. The Shi’ite Arab premier, a rare ally of both the United States and Iran, is trying to fend off powerful Shi’ite groups that could pull Baghdad closer to Tehran.

Some 200 miles (322 km) north of the Iraqi capital, the Kurdish areas are caught in a somewhat different dynamic.

New Kurdish parties hoped to exploit discontent with a political elite accused of gambling away 27 years of hard-fought autonomy in a failed bid for independen­ce last year.

Veteran PUK leader Jalal Talabani, who served as Iraqi president, died last year, and the KDP’s Masoud Bar-

zani has been weakened since the catastroph­ic independen­ce referendum that he championed.

But initial results show a strong win for the old guard, which the opposition reject outright.

With many voters complainin­g also of corruption, the new parties were expected to snatch seats from the PUK in Sulaimaniy­a, and from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which rules the wider autonomous Kurdish region from nearby Erbil.

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