Iraq Prime Minister Wins Vote in Mosul Province

Frederick Owens
May 15, 2018

The surprisingly strong showing of a ticket backed by maverick Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Iraqi elections over the weekend will force USA officials to recalculate how best to pursue American interests in the region at an especially sensitive moment.

An election commission source said Abadi's Nasr (Victory) coalition was the frontrunner, followed by another Shiite bloc headed by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It was competitive, fair and largely free of violence - a remarkable achievement for a country that until a few months ago was fighting a war against the Islamic State. However, none of the parties appeared on track to win a majority needed to name a prime minister outright.

Early results from Iraq's electoral commission place al-Sadr and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as the two leading politicians in the race - the fourth election since the US invasion in 2003 brought down Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and the first after Iraq's three-year war against ISIS, which ended last December.

During the first parliamentary elections in Iraq after the victory over the terrorist group Islamic state in Diyala province ISIS militants made several attacks on polling stations. Al-Sadr said in Tweet he was open to forming a coalition with al-Abadi to form a new government for Iraq.

The militia also hunted U.S. troops in Najaf, just south of Baghdad. His statement, which sparked criticism by Iraqi figures, was referring to the electoral alliance between Sadr, the Iraqi Communist Party and other secular groups which joined protests organized by Sadr in 2016 to press the government to see through a move to stem endemic corruption.

"Everyone is concerned, we just don't know what to expect", said a Western diplomat who asked to remain anonymous to discuss Iraqi politics.

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Iraq has been ranked among the world's most corrupt countries, with high unemployment, poverty, weak public institutions and crumbling infrastructure despite high oil revenues for many years. Iran has publicly stated it will not allow his bloc to govern. He has balked, for instance, at Iran's efforts to extend its influence through military assistance and political backing of hard-line Shi'ite politicians.

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

Sadr has reinvented himself as an anti-graft crusader after rising to prominence as a powerful militia chief whose group waged a bloody insurgency against United States forces after the 2003 invasion. However, ahead of Saturday's national election, he distanced himself from Iran. The divided electoral list threatens to dilute the final Kurdish seats in the Iraqi parliament. That would offer a lifeline to Abadi, if he can work out an agreement with Sadr and other reform-minded parties that won handfuls of seats.

It is the only province so far to give a plurality of votes to al-Abadi, who has performed poorly in this year's parliamentary elections.

Seen as a compromise figure, Abadi has balanced off key players the United States and Iran and was widely favoured by the worldwide community.

For months past year, Sadr gathered his followers to protest at the gates of Baghdad's barricaded Green Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government.

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