Sadr eyes Govt as poll upset rocks Iraq

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A surprise election victory for fiery Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr appears to have shaken Iraq's political landscape at the expense of both the Iranian and American influence in the country. Incumbent Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi's coalition, initially predicted to win re-election, trails in third.

A political outlier before Saturday's ballot, Sadr is best known for leading the "fearsome" Mehdi Army in two insurgencies against USA troops in Iraq, following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Sadr fled to Iran before a government crackdown on the Mehdi Army, but has since moved to distance himself from Iran.

"We are ready to work and cooperate in forming the strongest government for Iraq, free of corruption", Abadi said in a live televised address.

Projecting himself as an Iraqi nationalist, Sadr has a zealous following among the young, poor and dispossessed, but he had been sidelined by influential Iran-backed figures.

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But even then, his bloc might not necessarily form the next government.

Seats in parliament will be allocated proportionately to coalitions once all votes are counted. The elections were held Saturday, with low turnout.

Abadi - who came to power in 2014 as IS rampaged across Iraq - has balanced off the U.S. and Iran during his time at the helm. The commission gave no indication on when further results would be announced. The Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia chief Hadi al-Amiri came in second with about 1.2 million votes and will control 47 seats.

But after 14 years, more than $1 trillion, millions of Iraqi dead and thousands of USA troops killed and maimed, the US now has less influence over Iraq than it had while former Central Intelligence Agency operative Saddam Hussein was in power. The other winning blocks, though, will have to approve his nomination.

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