Tens of thousands of loyalists converge on Baghdad to celebrate cleric’s victory in bid to take power in key western state
A cleric who has promised to unite disaffected Iraqis as well as the US-backed government, and its foreign foes, appears to have won the first round of the Iraqi election.
Faisal al-Sudani, a 42-year-old cleric from the Shia radical party Sadr, has won close to 25% of the votes in Iraq’s parliamentary election, according to preliminary results released by an electoral commission.
Sadr’s candidacy was initially banned by the Shia-dominated government. However, after securing a court injunction, Sadr was allowed to run and he received an unprecedented 93% of the vote for the parliamentary seat. His supporters are believed to have rallied around the cleric in Baghdad on Wednesday, with tens of thousands turning out to celebrate his victory.
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A key figure in the Shia branch of the Islamic Revolution, Sadr has seen his family’s reputation and that of his party crumble in the face of strong nationalist sentiments, especially in the Sunni provinces of Iraq.
His victory is a blow to the US-backed government of prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who has been seeking to make progress against the Islamic State militants who overran large areas of Iraq in 2014. The popular uprising that followed forced Isis out of towns and cities, but tensions with the government have resurfaced in recent months.
Sadr has vowed to restore services and tried to play down the war. But his presence in parliament could prove troublesome, given the new constitution obliging a president to be a member of a bloc of the country’s highest Shia authority, which has been held by Abadi for the past two years.
Sadr’s victories are also a victory for an alliance between Iran, which backs his political alliance, and the US-backed Abadi.
The victory is also a setback for former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who won almost 20% of the votes and has made a surprisingly strong showing, this time on the side of Abadi’s bloc.
The provincial elections, the first in Iraq since 2014, were held last month and so far local election monitors have disqualified 48 parties, ranging from the liberal Iraqiya alliance to the Maliki-backed Iraqi National Movement. That will hamper any of those groups from gaining a majority in the 270 seats in the new parliament. A second round will be held in two weeks.