Iraqi Voters Backing al-Sadr's Coalition Over Prime Minister's, Early Election Results Show

A candidate’s poster lies on the ground near an “I love Fallujah” sign during an Iraqi parliamentary election on Saturday.

A candidate’s poster lies on the ground near an “I love Fallujah” sign during an Iraqi parliamentary election on Saturday.


Photo:

Ahmed Aboulenein/Reuters

By

MOSUL, Iraq—Iraqi voters appeared to deal a blow to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in this weekend’s election, giving surprisingly strong support to an unlikely coalition of communists and followers of populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in partial preliminary results.

Mr. Sadr,

a firebrand whose militias once fought openly with U.S. forces and were implicated in sectarian bloodshed, has since entered the political mainstream. His new alliance with Iraq’s communists did well in a contest in which many Iraqis stayed home and those who did vote said they wanted to shake up a political status quo known for corruption and bad governance.

With preliminary results counted in 10 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, Mr. Sadr’s coalition came in first in four of them, including the country’s most populous city, Baghdad, and was near the top in all of them, according to preliminary results.

Mr. Abadi’s

coalition didn’t come first in any of the provinces for which results were released, suggesting his chances of re-election may be slim even after his government led the country to victory over Islamic State last year. Neither Mr. Abadi’s coalition, seen as being implicitly supported by the U.S., nor Iran-backed groups were as successful as Mr. Sadr.

The predominantly Shiite provinces for which results were released account for around one-third of the seats in Iraq’s parliament.

The early results don’t necessarily mean that Mr. Sadr will become prime minister, a post chosen in a round of political horse trading between political parties after the vote. But the vote gives him a powerful voice in the coming negotiations.

In recent months, Mr. Sadr has criticized Iranian influence in Iraq and received overtures from Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim country that sees him as a possible bulwark against its rival Tehran. In 2016, Mr. Sadr was one of the few politicians with the ability to mobilize a protest movement against corruption that culminated in the storming of the fortified Green Zone and broke into parliament. His Sairun coalition was born from that movement.

An Iraqi soldier stands guard as voters wait in a long line to cast their ballots in the parliamentary elections in Mosul.

An Iraqi soldier stands guard as voters wait in a long line to cast their ballots in the parliamentary elections in Mosul.


Photo:

Maya Alleruzzo/Associated Press

Mr. Sadr already had 34 lawmakers in the previous parliament but banned them from running in Saturday’s election, seeking to appeal to voters fed up with old faces.

In Baghdad, Iraq’s biggest constituency with 71 of parliament’s 329 seats, Sairun came first with nearly twice as many votes as the runner-up, which was the

Fateh,

a coalition representing Shiite militias with close links to Iran. Mr. Abadi’s Victory coalition ranked fifth. Fateh came first in the southern oil-rich province of Basra.

Mr. Abadi is expected to win more seats than his Shiite rivals in Sunni provinces that were occupied by Islamic State, for which results have yet to be announced. The outcome of the vote in the Kurdish north is also yet to be announced amid claims of fraud that may force a manual recount.

—Ghassan Adnan in Baghdad contributed to this article.

Write to Isabel Coles at isabel.coles@wsj.com and Ali Nabhan at ali.nabhan@wsj.com

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