Al-Sadr's Sairoon bloc sweeps Iraq polls: Early results

Security was tight at polling stations in Baghdad during Saturday's vote

The Iraqi air force has already carried out several air strikes against Islamic State in Syria since previous year, with the approval of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad and the US -led coalition fighting Islamic State.

Iraq's electoral commission says influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's alliance is the early front-runner in national elections, with official results in from just over half of the country's provinces.

The dozens of militia groups formed under the loose umbrella of the PMF in 2014, were supposedly integrated into Iraqi state forces, but retain a great deal of independence and outside influence.

Sadr was not a candidate for Parliament and can not himself be elected prime minister.

In a tweet he appeared to point towards a broad technocrat coalition with leading blocs, including Abadi's, but left main challenger the Conquest Alliance off the list. Like the United States, Iran will now also have to recalibrate how to advance its interests in Iraq, where Sadr's independence has made him attractive to some of Iran's rivals in the Arab world. Al-Sadr's preliminary victory was attributed to his "attractive nationalist slogans".

Al-Sadr's Mahdi army was once heavily reliant on Iran.

Though Sadr's ticket, called Sairoon, or Marching Forward, defied expectations in Saturday's election, this was the culmination of his long effort to rebrand himself as a centrist. His popularity has grown steadily over the past decade. The occupation reportedly took place for 24 hours before the protesters were instructed by al-Sadr to leave in an orderly fashion to participate in a Shiite pilgrimage ritual.

Many analysts have seen the British-educated Abadi, a Shia who as prime minister nurtured ties with Washington and Tehran, as potentially winning a second term as prime minister.

He was viewed as a frontrunner before the election. As Fox News notes, "voters fault him [Abadi] for failing to reform the country's vast patronage networks that have drained the private sector of its vitality".

Full election results are expected on Monday.

The election was marked by record low turnout.

The Saeroon list of candidates headed by al-Sadr, a former militia commander who led attacks on American forces after the 2003 invasion but now targets Iraq's political establishment over issues like corruption, also looked set to easily win the capital Baghdad, according to results announced by the Independent High Electoral Commission.

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