Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr takes shock lead in Iraq election

People are seen casting their referendum vote on Sept. 25 2017 at a voting station in Kirkuk Iraq

People are seen casting their referendum vote on Sept. 25 2017 at a voting station in Kirkuk Iraq

But with the vote tallied in 10 of the country's 19 provinces, he was in third, well behind both Sadr and an alliance of paramilitary factions, many of which are supported by Iran and led by Shiite militia leader Hadi Ameri. It was the first since Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group and the fourth since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The electoral commission of Iraq announced that 44.5 percent of those eligible had cast their ballots in the elections.

Election officials said that full final results could be announced in the next 24 hours.

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

Whatever the outcome, there looks set to be lengthy horse-trading between the main political forces before any new premier and a coalition government can be installed.

Sadr first came to prominence as a preacher in the weeks after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in 2003, opposing the US-led occupation. The result is that long after the elections have finished, the embittered Iraqi divide will be bickering and jostling for months to form a government.

Reuters could not independently verify the document's authenticity but the results in it showed Sadr had won the nationwide popular vote with more than 1.3 million votes and gained 54 of parliament's 329 seats. "Iraq first, eradicate corruption, and a technocratic government".

The Iranian support of PMF is well known, and the Conquest bloc remains an important vehicle for Tehran to exert post-election influence including on the makeup of the future coalition government.

The election came as Iraq is struggling to bring down soaring unemployment and reintegrate its disenfranchised Sunni minority. His strong showing tapped into a deep vein of anger among Iraqis over poverty, ineffective public services, lack of jobs and rampant corruption.

Alternatively, these blocs could sideline Abadi altogether if they can muster a coalition of their own with the formula and size to secure power.

Many analysts have seen the British-educated Abadi, a Shia who as prime minister nurtured ties with Washington and Tehran, as potentially winning a second term as prime minister. Sadr, by contrast, has staked out an independent, nationalist position.

Hadi al-Amiri is the head of one of Iraq's most powerful Shia paramilitary groups backed by Tehran, whose forces ended up battling alongside the USA to oust Daesh militants.

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