Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s party was the biggest winner in an Iraqi election on Monday, increasing the number of seats he holds in parliament, according to initial results, officials and a spokesperson for the Sadrist Movement.
Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki looked set to have the next largest win among Shi’ite parties, the initial results showed.
Iraq’s Shi’ite groups have dominated governments and government formation since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein and catapulted the Shi’ite majority and the Kurds to power.
Sunday’s election was held several months early, in response to mass protests in 2019 that toppled a government and showed widespread anger against political leaders whom many Iraqis say have enriched themselves at the expense of the country.
But a record low turnout suggested that an election billed as an opportunity to wrest control from the ruling elite would do little to dislodge sectarian religious parties in power since 2003.
An official at Iraq’s electoral commission said Sadr had come first but did not immediately confirm how many seats his party had won.
The initial results also showed that pro-reform candidates who emerged from the 2019 protests had gained several seats in the 329-member parliament.
Iran-backed parties with links to militia groups accused of killing some of the nearly 600 people who died in the protests took a blow, winning less seats than in the last election in 2018, according to the initial results and local officials.
The unpredictable populist cleric has been a dominant figure and often kingmaker in Iraqi politics since the U.S. invasion.