What next for Iraq as cleric Sadr heads for election win?

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Meanwhile, the favourites entering the elections, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's Victory Alliance only managed to come first in the northern province of Nineveh, which was liberated by Iraqi forces from ISIS militants at the end of previous year.

Iraqi election officials announced on Monday that Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric and militia leader, is the front-runner in the country's national elections.

USA -backed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi tallied just over 1 million votes and will control 42 seats, and former US puppet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki - who turned on the US and cozied up to Iran - placed fourth and holds about 25 seats.

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.

Meanwhile, conservative Tasnim News Agency reported on May 15 that Sadr is seeking to reach a coalition with Ammar al-Hakim's Hikma (National Wisdom Movement) and Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National Alliance Coalition to form a "technocrat" government.

The election came as the country deals with the disenfranchisement of the country's Sunni minority.

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O'Neill warned that such a situation could be tenuous if America's former "enemy number one" is able to choose the next prime minister. Asked about the USA government's possible softened position toward Sadr and his alleged proximity to Riyadh, Hassan Danaiefar told Entekhab news site on May 15, "Some of this talk is speculation". Whoever wins the most seats must negotiate a coalition government in order to have a majority in parliament.

The elections commission has announced results from 16 of Iraq's 19 provinces.

The remaining uncounted ballots, mostly from Iraqis overseas, the security services, and internally displaced people voting in camps and elsewhere, might change the final seat tallies but only marginally.

The electoral commission said it would release the remainder of the results on Tuesday.

After the announcement of the partial election results, supporters took to the streets of Baghdad's Sadr City district - named after his late father - to celebrate. There appears to have been a low turnout on Saturday, with Riyadh Al Badran, the electoral administration chief of the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), indicating turnout was just 44 per cent.