October 18. 2021. 5:20

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Iraq election: Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr the main winner

Followers of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr celebrate in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, after the announcement of election results. Photograph: AP

The main winner of Iraq’s fifth parliamentary election is Shia nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army mounted an insurgency against the 2003 US occupation and now calls for an end to US and Iranian influence in Iraq’s affairs.

Analyst Ali Anbouri told Al-Jazeera: “They [The Sadrists] have a good election machine and they use all kinds of means to achieve their goals.”

Mr Sadr’s Reform bloc announced it has secured 73 seats in the 329-member assembly, a big increase over 54 seats won in the 2018 election. As the largest faction, Reform will have to recruit a coalition commanding at least 165 seats to form the next government.

The other two main winners are parliamentary speaker Mohammed Halbousi’s newly established Sunni Progress party and the veteran Shia State of the Law party, headed by ex-prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Each party is set to win more than 30 seats.

Mr Maliki is widely blamed for rampant graft and persecution of Sunnis, which facilitated the rise of al-Qaeda and Sunni extremist Islamic State.

The main losers are Iran and its key ally, powerful paramilitary commander Hadi al-Amiri, who heads the Fatah alliance which appears to have dropped from 34 to 20 seats. The bloc consists of Iran-sponsored Shia militias, which played a major role in ground fighting in the 2014-17 US-led campaign to drive Islamic State from northern Iraq.

Since then Shia militias have not only targeted US forces but also alienated Iraqis by attacking Sunnis and Iraqi youths who mounted the October 2019 movement protesting over the state’s failure to deliver services, water, electricity and jobs. More than 600 were reported killed during the first months of protests and dozens have been assaulted or kidnapped.

Ethno-sectarian regime

The October movement’s candidates are projected to win several seats despite the split between activists who stood for election and those who boycotted, claiming the election confers legitimacy on politicians entrenched since 2003 when the US installed an ethno-sectarian regime, mandating a Kurdish president, Shia prime minister, and Sunni parliamentary speaker.

Voter turnout was 41 per cent. This is a steep plunge from the 79.6 per cent in the first election for a full-term assembly in December 2005 and slightly worse than 44.5 per cent in 2018.

Amwaj.media, a platform focused on Iraq, Iran and the Gulf, revealed that voting was highest among poor urban dwellers who are swayed by community, tribal and religious figures and lowest among indifferent prosperous voters and apathetic or antagonistic youths, who form the majority in Iraq’s population.

The election result is not expected to dramatically change the politics of Iraq or alter regional alignments.