Iraq election: Shia rivals of PM Abadi 'make gains'

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While incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was considered the most likely victor, the alliance of populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has very hard relationships with the United States, is the likely victor in a surprise twist, according to preliminary results based on more than 91 percent of the votes cast in 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces. The results there, which may be delayed due to tensions between local parties, will not affect Sadr's standing.

But more importantly, "Al-Sadr is an interesting character because he has very, very hard relations with the US but increasingly hard relationships with the Iranians as well", Croft said.

After the 2003 invasion, his militia battled USA forces. "Sayyid Muqtada loves the nation, and so do I".

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The remaining uncounted ballots, mostly from Iraqis overseas, the security services, and internally displaced people voting in camps and elsewhere, might change the final seat tallies but only marginally. He also has said he is open to USA training of Iraq's military and regularly meets with US diplomats in Baghdad.

The protracted horse-trading ahead comes as surging tensions between the U.S. and Iran after Washington's withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran have sparked fears of a tug-of-war over Iraq. His former Mahdi Army fought American forces for years.

Al-Abadi's signature achievement was expelling Islamic State militants from Mosul, a Nineveh city, in 2017. Iraqi people are likewise fed up with the US occupation and Iranian meddling. Abadi, however, is using those claims, and the use of "faulty" electronic voting machines to argue a recount is needed. "His visit coincided with the announcement of the election results". It included full returns from only 10 of the country's 19 provinces, including the provinces of Baghdad and Basra. It released the results of six more provinces late Monday.

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He was followed by Amiri with more than 1.2 million votes, translating into around 47 seats, and Abadi with more than 1 million votes and about 42 seats. Though this started with claims of mistakes in Kirkuk, Abadi wants it expanded nationwide. It says it will announce the remaining results Tuesday.

While speculation swirls, the next concrete step remains completing the vote count and firming up the final makeup of Iraq's new 329-seat parliament. The elections were held Saturday, with low turnout.

No single group is expected to gain an outright majority. Since he did not run for a seat, he will not be eligible for the role.

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Political power in Iraq is traditionally divided along sectarian lines among the offices of prime minister, president and parliament speaker. But Sadr will not become prime minister because he did not run in the election.