Shiite cleric Sadr leads in Iraq’s initial election results

Iraqi residents celebrate with a picture of Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr during the general election in Baghdad on Saturday, May 14. Sadr’s political coalition took an early lead in Iraq’s national elections in partial returns announced late Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2018

Shiite cleric Sadr leads in Iraq’s initial election results

  • Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi performed poorly across majority Shiite provinces that should have been his base of support
  • The elections held Saturday were the first since Iraq declared victory over Daesh fighters and the fourth since the 2003 US-led toppling of Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD: The political coalition of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr took an early lead in Iraq’s national elections in partial returns announced late Sunday by the Iraqi electoral commission.

An alliance of candidates linked to Iraq’s powerful Shiite paramilitary groups was in second. The alliance is headed by Hadi Al-Amiri, a former minister of transport with close ties to Iran who became a senior commander of paramilitary fighters in the fight against the Islamic State extremist group.

Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi performed poorly across majority Shiite provinces that should have been his base of support.

The announcement came just over 24 hours after polls closed across the country amid record low voter turnout. It included full returns from only 10 of the country’s 19 provinces, including the provinces of Baghdad and Basra.

Members of the national election commission read out vote tallies for each candidate list in each of the 10 provinces on national TV. By the end of the announcement, Al-Sadr’s list had the highest popular vote, followed by Al-Amiri’s.

Seats in parliament will be allocated proportionately to coalitions once all votes are counted. The commission gave no indication on when further results would be announced.

Celebrations erupted in Baghdad’s Sadr City, an impoverished quarter that is home to some 3 million people and is named after the cleric’s late father, Ayatollah Mohammad Sadq Al-Sadr. The younger Al-Sadr campaigned on a cross-sectarian platform of fighting corruption and investing in services and struck a surprising alliance with the Communist Party in the capital.

The strong showing could be a testament to Al-Sadr’s loyal base of followers he maintains who cast their ballots despite a general mood of apathy that kept many Iraqis away from the polls. Al-Sadr commanded fighters in the war against the IS group and headed a powerful militia that fought US forces in Iraq prior to 2011, but his 2018 campaign focused on social issues and eliminating government corruption.

Al-Abadi sought to retain his post as prime minister after overseeing the military defeat of the Daesh movement, but faced stiff competition from his predecessor, Nouri Al-Maliki, as well as Al-Sadr and the Fatah alliance of candidates with paramilitary ties.

Many of the candidates on Fatah were militia commanders before they cut their official ties with the force in order to seek office.

Fatah’s strong result will be seen as a victory for Iran as it seeks to protect its interests in the Iraq, including the militias it finances and has sometimes directed to fight alongside its forces in Syria. Al-Sadr is a staunch foe of Iranian and American influence in Iraqi politics.

The elections held Saturday were the first since Iraq declared victory over Daesh fighters and the fourth since the 2003 US-led toppling of Saddam Hussein. Officials said turnout was only 44 percent, the lowest ever since Saddam’s ouster.

Any political party or alliance must gain a majority of Iraq’s 329 seats in parliament to be able to choose a prime minister and form a government. Dozens of alliances ran for office in these elections and months of negotiations are expected before any one alliance can pull together the 165 required seats.

Until a new prime minister is chosen, Al-Abadi will remain in office, retaining all his power.

Political power in Iraq is traditionally divided along sectarian lines among the offices of prime minister, president and parliament speaker. Since the first elections following the 2003 US-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.

The constitution sets a quota for female representation, stating that no less than one-fourth of parliament members must be women. Nearly 2,600 women are running for office this year.


UN says Libyan sides sign countrywide cease-fire deal

Updated 43 min 4 sec ago

UN says Libyan sides sign countrywide cease-fire deal

  • Libya is split between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east
  • Libya’s prized light crude has long featured in the country’s civil war, with rival militias and foreign powers jostling for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves

GENEVA: The United Nations said Friday that the two sides in Libyan military talks had reached a “historic achievement” with a permanent cease-fire agreement across the war-torn North African country.
After mediation this week led by UN envoy for Libya Stephanie Turco Williams, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission reached what the UN called an “important turning point toward peace and stability in Libya.”
Details were not immediately available, but the two sides were taking part in a signing ceremony in Geneva on Friday morning.
Libya is split between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east. The two sides are backed by an array of local militias as well as regional and foreign powers. The country was plunged into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
“The road to a permanent cease-fire deal was often long and difficult,” Williams, a former US State Department official, said in Arabic at the signing ceremony.
“Before us is a lot of work in the coming days and weeks in order to implement the commitments of the agreement,” she said. “It is essential to continue work as quickly as possible in order to alleviate the many problems due to this conflict facing the Libyan people.”
“We have to give people hope of a better future,” Williams added. She expressed hope the agreement will succeed “in ending the suffering of Libyans and allowing those displaced by the conflict to return to their homes.”
Ali Abushahma, the head of the delegation and a field commander for the UN-supported administration in Tripoli, said: “We have had enough suffering, enough bloodshed ... We hope we will change the suffering on all the territories of Libya, especially in the south.”
“I appeal to all Libya: Be one hand,” he said, warning about polarization by factions.
The meetings this week mark the fourth round of talks involving the Joint Military Commission under Williams’ watch. The Geneva-based military talks come ahead of a political forum in Tunisia in November. That forum aims to “generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to the holding of national elections,” the UN mission said.
On Wednesday, Williams had said the two warring factions agreed on issues that “directly impact the lives and welfare of the Libyan people,” citing agreements to open air and land routes in the country, to work to ease inflammatory rhetoric in Libyan media, and to help kickstart Libya’s vital oil industry.
Libya’s prized light crude has long featured in the country’s civil war, with rival militias and foreign powers jostling for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves.
Last month, the two sides reached preliminary agreements to exchange prisoners and open up air and land transit across the country’s divided territory. This breakthrough also accompanied the resumption of oil production after a months-long blockade by powerful tribes allied with military commander Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the eastern-based forces.
Haftar’s forces launched an offensive in April 2019 to try and capture Tripoli, the seat of the UN-supported government in the west. But his campaign collapsed in June.
Fighting has since died down amid international pressure on both sides to avert an attack on the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s major oil export terminals.