Washington: Shi’ite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s party was the biggest winner in an Iraqi election, increasing the number of seats he holds in parliament, according to initial results, officials, and a spokesperson for the Sadrist Movement.
Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki looked set to have the next largest win among Shi’ite parties, initial results showed.
Iraq’s Shi’ite groups have dominated governments and government formation since the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and catapulted the Shi’ite majority and the Kurds to power.
The October 10 election was held several months early, in response to mass protests in 2019 that toppled a government and showed widespread anger against political leaders whom many Iraqis say have enriched themselves at the expense of the country.
Sadr broadcast a live speech on state TV claiming victory and promising a nationalist government free of foreign interference.
“We welcome all embassies that do not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs,” he said, adding that celebrations would take place in the streets “without weapons”.
The unpredictable populist cleric has been a dominant figure and often kingmaker in Iraqi politics since the US invasion.
He opposes all foreign interference in Iraq, whether by the United States, against which he fought an insurgency after 2003 or by neighboring Iran, which he has criticized for its close involvement in Iraqi politics.
Iraq has held five parliamentary elections since the fall of Saddam. Rampant sectarian violence unleashed during the US occupation has abated, and Islamic State fighters who seized a third of the country in 2014 were defeated in 2017.
But many Iraqis say their lives have yet to improve. Infrastructure lies in disrepair and healthcare, education and electricity are inadequate.