In Iraq Election, Shiite Cleric Who Fought U.S. Strengthens Power

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The results showed that Muktada al-Sadr’s party made the biggest gains in a vote that could help shape the direction of Iraq and its relations with both the United States and Iran.

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Baghdad – Followers of a Shia cleric whose fighters fought US forces during the occupation made the biggest gains in Iraq’s parliamentary election, solidifying his hand in determining whether the country surpasses the American class.

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While independents won some seats for the first time in a political landscape that had changed due to anti-government protests, it became increasingly clear as the ballots were counted on Monday that the big winner in Sunday’s vote was a political movement loyal to Maulvi Muktada, Sauron. Was. Al-Sadr.

Siron won an additional 20 seats in parliament, cementing his position as the largest bloc in the chamber and giving the business cleric an even more decisive vote on the country’s next prime minister.

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The result could further complicate Iraq’s challenge in operating diplomatically between the United States and Iran, adversaries who both see Iraq as vital to their own interests. Pro-Iran militias have played an increased role in Iraq since the rise of Islamic State in 2014 and launched attacks on US interests in the country.

Mr. al-Sadr has navigated an uneasy relationship with Iran, where he has pursued his religious studies. With regard to the United States, he and his allies have refused to meet with US officials.

He and the Iranian leadership shared similar goals when their fighters fought US forces after 2003. But Mr. Sadr is seen as an Iraqi nationalist, an identity that has sometimes put him in conflict with Iran – a country he cannot resist.

In a speech on Monday night, Mr. al-Sadr said that all embassies in Iraq are welcome as long as they do not interfere in Iraqi affairs or government formation. The cleric also indirectly criticized Iran-backed militias, some of whom refer to themselves as “the Resistance”.

“Even those who claim resistance or the like, it is time for people to live in peace without occupation, terrorism, militias and kidnappings,” he said in an address broadcast on state TV. “Today is the day of the people’s victory against occupation, normalization, militia, poverty and slavery,” he said in an apparent reference to normalizing relations with Israel.

“He is using some scathing language against Iran and resistance groups linked to Iran,” said Ghis Ghorishi, a political analyst who has advised Iran’s foreign ministry on Iraq, after Mr Sadr’s victory speech at the clubhouse. Speaking of , an online discussion group. “There is a real lack of trust and grievances between Sadr and Iran.”

On Monday night in Baghdad, young men jammed the streets of the capital in pickup trucks, waving flags, playing celebratory songs and taking pictures of Mr.

Election officials announced the preliminary results on Monday evening and the official results are expected later this week. With 94 percent of the votes counted, election officials said the turnout was 41 percent – a record low that reflects a deep disdain by Iraqis for the politicians and government leaders who have made Iraq a major country.The world’s most corrupt country.

Activists who were part of the anti-government protests that toppled the Iraqi government in 2019 won a dozen seats for the first time in this election, which was called a year earlier to respond to demands for changes to Iraq’s political system.

The system, in which senior government positions are divided by political leaders on communal and ethnic lines, remains unchanged. But a new electoral law loosened the grip of large political factions and made it easier for independent candidates and smaller parties to win seats.

Preliminary results also showed that the political faction led by former prime minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki appeared to be the second biggest winner, while parties tied to pro-Iranian militias lost ground.

Mr. al-Maliki, a Shia, gained widespread support for sending Iraqi government troops to break the militia’s hold on Iraq’s southern city of Basra in 2008. But he was later blamed for the descent into communalism, which helped fuel its rise. Islamic State.

But it was Saddarist who was the clear winner on Sunday.

“Of course I voted for the Sadar group,” said 20-year-old Haider Tehseen Ali, standing outside the small grocery where he works in Sadar City, a sprawling Baghdad neighborhood and a stronghold of Mr al-Sadr’s base. .

Mr. Al-Sadr has inherited the religious legacy of his revered father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr, who was killed by Saddam Hussein’s regime in 1999.

Abbas Radhi, an election worker overseeing one of the polling stations in the city of Sadar, referred to Mr al-Sadr as saying, “Even if he ordered us to throw ourselves off the roofs of our homes , even then I will throw myself.”

The cleric announced twice for the vote that he was withdrawing his agitation from the election process before reversing and declaring that the next prime minister should come from the Sadrist ranks. But Mr. al-Sadr is open to talks about who will lead Iraq.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, an independent who has tried to balance Iraq’s ties between the United States and Iran, and made it clear that if he wants to be prime minister again, he will need Sadr’s support.

While Shia parties dominate Iraqi politics, the largest Kurdish faction, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, along with a Sunni faction headed by parliament speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi, emerged with enough seats to play a role in deciding the next prime minister.

The low turnout was a reflection of disdain for Iraqi politicians, especially among young voters who face a future that offers few opportunities. Sixty percent of Iraq’s population is under the age of 25.

“Clearly, people are still even more disenchanted with political parties and the political process,” said Farhad Aladdin, chief Iraq Advisory Council, a research group in Baghdad. “People don’t believe this election will bring change, and so they didn’t bother to vote.”

This disillusionment ranges from a deeply corrupt and dysfunctional government to the parliamentarians themselves. President Barham Salih has said that an estimated $150 billion obtained through corruption has been smuggled out of Iraq since 2003.

The organization of the election, with new biometric voting cards and electronic transmission systems designed to prevent widespread fraud seen in previous elections, was declared by international observers to meet international criteria.

But some organizations that have deployed observers during voting cautioned that low turnout meant a limited public mandate for the government.

“After the elections, the low turnout could call into question the legitimacy of the government,” said director Sarah Hepp. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German government-funded political foundation.

Two years ago the protest movement spread from the south of Iraq to Baghdad when thousands of young people took to the streets demanding jobs, public services and an end to the corrupt political system.

Challenging neighboring Iran, he also called for an end to Iranian influence in Iraq. Iran’s proxy militias have become part of Iraq’s official security forces, but in many cases do not respond to the Iraqi government and are accused of killings and disappearances, for which they are never held accountable.

Security forces and militia members have killed more than 600 unarmed protesters since the October 2019 demonstrations, According to human rights groups.

One of the major opposition candidates, Ala al-Rikabi, won easily. A seat in the southern city of Nasiriyah. Mr al-Rikabi has said that the main goal of the movement was to move the protest from the streets to parliament, where he said he and some other new lawmakers would demand change.

“My people do not have enough hospitals, not enough health care services. A lot of my people are below the poverty line,” he said in an interview in August. “Most of them say they cannot feed their children, they cannot educate their sons and daughters.”

Ja’far al-Wali, Falih Hasan and Narmin al-Mufti contributed reporting from Baghdad. Farnaz Fassi contributed from New York.

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