Preliminary Results Show Sadr ahead of Abadi in Iraq Elections

Voting for Parliamentary Elections Begins in Iraq

With most votes counted, a bloc headed by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and another led by a militia leader are ahead, voting officials are quoted as saying.

Mustering a government the people can trust and that can heal the great ethnosectarian divide is no easy feat and nearly 7,000 candidates from dozens of rival alliances vying for just 329 seats in the assembly, sums up this hard undertaking.Even the unified Shiite parliamentary bloc, led by the Dawa Party, which allowed current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to assume power from Nouri al-Maliki in 2014 has splintered into five competing factions.

Sadr has led two uprisings against US forces in Iraq and is one of the few Shi'ite leaders to distance himself from Iran.

A document provided to Reuters by a candidate in Baghdad that was also circulating among journalists and analysts showed results from all 18 provinces. That means Sadr will play a decisive role in assembling a new government.

Recently, he rebranded himself as a nationalist, anti-U.S. and anti-Iran.

The weakened support for the incumbent Abadi, a United Kingdom -educated engineer considered a moderate, tosses aside USA assumptions that Iraq would continue on the course he has steered.

While sectarianism may have dominated the Iraqi landscape in the past, the focus of most disenchanted Iraqis is on tackling widespread corruption, a faltering economy and the mammoth reconstruction effort after Daesh. His supporters celebrated in Baghdad.

Both Sadr and Ameri are political veterans well-known to Iraqis, but they pitched themselves as outsiders seeking to sweep clean the country's reviled elite. The Shiite Muslim cleric instructed his followers to vote not on the basis of religion but for qualified technocrats.

The Iraqi air force carried out a strike on an Islamic State (IS) position inside Syria, state television reported on Monday citing a military statement.

Abadi, who was commander in chief of the armed forces during three years of hard fighting, did well in liberated cities including Mosul. The groups also ran on a pledge of "Iraq First" - a rebuke to the outside powers many blame for recent instability, namely Iran and the United States. Since the first elections following the 2003 USA -led toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Shiite majority has held the position of prime minister, while the Kurds have held the presidency and the Sunnis have held the post of parliament speaker. His allies were communists and secular parties, and he wants a government of technocrats.

Voter turnout was 44.52 per cent, the Independent High Electoral Commission said, significantly lower than in previous elections. Horse-trading likely before a premier and a coalition government is installed.

Any coalition backed by Sadr will be unlikely to include Maliki, a bitter enemy. In 2004, Sadr's Mahdi Army fought a brutal, bloody insurgency against coalition forces, demanding they withdraw from the country. Despite the election setback, Abadi might still be granted a second term in office by parliament and on Monday he suggested he was willing to work with Sadr to form a government.

"This gave him more supporters than he had before", Mayali added.

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