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Abadi ahead of Sadr alliance in Iraqi elections, initial results suggest

Prime minister's alliance appears to be leading in parliamentary vote, sources tell Reuters, while Shia cleric's supporters are in second place
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is patted down as he enters a polling station (Reuters)

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's list appears to be leading in Iraq's parliamentary election followed by influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's alliance, an election commission source and a security official told Reuters on Sunday.

The sources cited unofficial initial results, calculated after Iraqis voted on Saturday in the first election since the defeat of Islamic State militants inside the country. 

Turnout was low at around 45 percent, according to the election commission. Final results are expected on Monday.

Abadi, a rare ally of both the United States and Iran, was mainly concerned with fending off Shia groups other than Sadr's alliance, which are seeking to pull the country closer to Tehran.

Unofficial results compiled by Reuters reporters in southern provinces also indicated that Sadr, a cleric who led a violent uprising against US troops from 2003-2011, appeared to be making a strong showing.

If the Sadr list finished second, that would mark a surprise comeback by the cleric. He is popular among the poor but has been sidelined by influential Iranian-backed figures. 

Sadr has formed an unlikely alliance with communists and other independent secular supporters who joined protests he organised in 2016 to press the government to see through a move to stem endemic corruption.

He derives much of his authority from his family. Sadr's father, highly respected Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, was murdered in 1999 for defying Saddam Hussein. His father’s cousin, Mohammed Baqir, was killed by Saddam in 1980.

Muqtada al-Sadr (MEE/Jonathan Steele)

Balancing act

Abadi, who came to power four years ago after Islamic State seized a third of Iraqi territory, received US military support for Iraq's army to defeat the Sunni Muslim militant group even as he gave free rein to Iran to back Shi'ite militias fighting on the same side.

If parliament chooses him as prime minister, Abadi will remain under pressure to maintain that balancing act amid tensions between Washington and Tehran over the nuclear accord.

Abadi, a British-educated engineer, was seen by some Iraqis as lacking charisma and ineffective. He had no powerful political machine of his own when he took office.

But the defeat of Islamic State and Abadi's campaign to eradicate Iraq's rampant corruption improved his standing.

Even if Abadi's Victory Alliance wins the most seats, he still must negotiate a coalition government, which must be formed within 90 days of the election.

Amiri's Badr organisation played a key role in the battle against Islamic State. But some Iraqis resent his close ties to Tehran. The dissident-turned-militia leader spent more than two decades fighting Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran.

His list is expected to come in third place, according to the election commission source and security official.

Iraqis head to polling stations on Saturday (AFP)

Low turnouts

Iraq's electoral commission said less than a fifth of Baghad residents had turned out to vote by Saturday afternoon as polls closed in the first elections in Iraq since the official defeat of Islamic State militants.

Some Baghdad residents braved unseasonal May rain and thunder, and threats by IS against voters in the elections.

With the exception of people who had an exemption from the Iraq High Elections Commission (IHEC), the usually busy streets were deserted for much of the day due to a traffice curfew, although by the afternoon the restrictions had been eased.

More than 24 million Iraqis are registered to vote for more than 7,000 candidates in 18 provinces.

Despite this, reports indicated a low turnout across the country. Initial reports from IHEC said overall turnout had been 32 percent, compared to the 80 percent turnout for the 2005 elections.

The midday turnout dipped to just 12 percent in Baghdad, although by 4pm it had reportedly risen to 35 percent.

Voters, including the elderly, had to walk sometimes long distances to reach their nearest polling station. But anger over rampant corruption and unemployment meant that many were undeterred.

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