Preliminary results of the Saturday Iraq election show a major victory for cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s bloc, which has secured a plurality estimated at 54-55 seats. While going from that to a 165-seat majority is a long road, Sadr’s election performance, and decisive victory in Baghdad district, shows a major shift in Iraqi politics.
Multiple Shi’ite blocs dominate Iraq’s political scene, and are historically all cozy with the nation’s two main allies, Iran and the US. Sadr, by contrast, has staked out an independent, nationalist position. He’s positioned himself as the anti-corruption and anti-militia leader for Iraq, something very different from the other leaders.
This is going to make forming a coalition with another big bloc difficult, as Amiri’s bloc is very pro-militia, and Maliki’s State of Law bloc has been the target of a lot of the corruption complaints. Prime Minister Hayder Abadi’s faction may be a possibility, as Sadr has said it’s possible they could form a government together.
A Sadr-led government could be a big change in Iraq’s regional alignment. While Sadr is unlikely to totally disavow any of Iraq’s allies, both the US and Iran will be sad to see more easily controlled leaders replaced with more independent ones, and that could have a long-term drag on relations. Sadr is also an opponent of the US having troops in Iraq, and could push to end that open-ended deployment.