Shiite Cleric Joins Forces with Communist Party for Unexpected Lead in Iraqi Elections

An Iraqi man celebrates with a picture of Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr during the general election in Baghdad on May 14, 2018. - The race to become Iraq's next prime minister appeared wide open as two outsider alliances looked to be in the lead after the first elections since the …
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images

Final numbers for the Iraqi parliamentary election, which took place on Saturday, will not be available until this Friday, although estimates appear to show Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s coalition leading.

Al-Sadr created a coalition with his Shiite Sadrist (Sayirun) movement, the Communist Party of Iraq, and six “secular” groups to gain a lead in the election as of Monday morning. The news of al-Sadr’s lead was widely reported by many major media outlets.

According to preliminary results on Kurdish outlet Rudaw, al-Sadr’s coalition, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s Nasr (Victory) Coalition, and Hadi al-Amiri’s Fatih (Conquest) Coalition are currently believed to be in a three-way tie.

Abadi’s coalition struggled to unite the nation’s Shiite population, at first receiving the support of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF/PMU) militias, but later losing it in January. The PMF launched its own candidates in parliamentary races.

Voter turnout reportedly reached 44.5 percent across Iraq’s 18 provinces, the lowest in 13 years.

According to Rudaw, Iraq’s election body announced that “official preliminary results” would be released by 6 p.m. Friday local time.

According to Rudaw, “Sadr’s apparent victory in Baghdad could have an impact as Shiite-dominated Iraq seeks to form a coalition government after Ramadan,” which begins on Tuesday.

Sadr ran a campaign of Arab nationalism, uniting Shiites but rejecting the intervention of Persian Shiites in Iraq political affairs. Al-Sadr’s preliminary victory was attributed to his “attractive nationalist slogans.” One such slogan was “Arab Iraq.”

Al-Sadr’s Mahdi army was once heavily reliant on Iran. However, ahead of Saturday’s national election, he distanced himself from Iran. His popularity has grown steadily over the past decade. In 2016, a group of protesters led by al-Sadr stormed Iraq’s Parliament and other government buildings and took selfies while sitting in the seats of parliamentary members. The occupation reportedly took place for 24 hours before the protesters were instructed by al-Sadr to leave in an orderly fashion to participate in a Shiite pilgrimage ritual.

Al-Sadr’s ethnic unity calls also place him at odds with Iraq’s Kurds, who are both not Arab and largely Sunni Muslim. Last month, he rejected the rumored return of Kurdish forces to areas disputed with the Iraqi government. He reportedly said, “only the heroic Iraqi army, and no one else, should take charge there.”

During four years in office, Prime Minister al-Abadi boasted about many achievements, including the defeat of the Islamic State and preventing a Kurdish bid for independence that would have broken the country into separate parts. Despite this, Abadi’s Nasr (Victory) party did not prove victorious in Saturday’s election. It came in third place. Some have suggested this is because of the country’s economic woes.

“If you have a job today, you might not have one tomorrow,” an Iraqi worker told the Associated Press. As Fox News notes, “voters fault him [Abadi] for failing to reform the country’s vast patronage networks that have drained the private sector of its vitality. Iraqis sit near the bottom of global governance indicators.”

On Monday evening, Abadi called for all parties and citizens to respect the results of the May 12 election.

“Today, after the government held the constitutional election on its specified date, and we were able to hold and complete the electoral process with safety, I am calling on citizens and the political parties to respect the results of the election and commit to the healthy legal means related to violations or protesting it,” Abadi said in a televised speech, according to Rudaw.

Since al-Sadr did not run in the election, he cannot become prime minister. However, his party’s victory puts him in a position to pick someone for the job. It is also possible for al-Sadr and al-Abadi to join forces which could result in al-Abadi being named prime minister again.

Adelle Nazarian is a politics and national security reporter for Breitbart News. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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