Tallies put the anti-establishment Conquest Alliance of pro-Iranian former paramilitary fighters who helped battle Daesh in second, and incumbent Abadi's bloc back in third. The commission gave no indication on when further results would be announced.
Although al-Sadr won't be prime minister because he himself didn't run in the election, he will have the power to name the next leader-and this could seriously influence Iraq's politics and policies.
Amid all the political amalgamations and formulations, the results should act as a wake-up call for political elites that Iraqis want an emphatic move away from sectarianism.
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Iraqi government officials approached by The New Arab's Arabic service neither confirmed nor denied the visit, but sources in Abadi's office said Soleimani was expected in Iraq because of the confusion produced by the election results. There appears to have been a low turnout on Saturday, with Riyadh Al Badran, the electoral administration chief of the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), indicating turnout was just 44 per cent.
After the 2003 US-led invasion, Sadr's Mahdi Army militia battled U.S. forces, and he is now calling for American troops to leave following last year's defeat of IS.
Sadr and his militia played central roles in the wave of sectarian bloodshed that peaked in 2006-2007, but he eventually froze the militia's activities in a move the United States credited with sharply reducing violence.
Projecting himself as an Iraqi nationalist, Sadr has a zealous following among the young, poor and dispossessed, but he had been sidelined by influential Iran-backed figures.
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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.
Abadi offered a statement of congratulations to Sadr for his victory, and for encouraging a secure atmosphere during the vote.
But after 14 years, more than $1 trillion, millions of Iraqi dead and thousands of US troops killed and maimed, the USA now has less influence over Iraq than it had while former Central Intelligence Agency operative Saddam Hussein was in power.
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