Iraq election: Shia rivals of PM Abadi 'make gains'

Iraq prime minister Haider al-Abadi appears to be ahead in poll

The United Arab Emirates flew him in for talks a year ago, following a meeting the cleric held with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the desert kingdom.

The head of the list is Hadi al-Ameri, a long-time ally of Tehran, whose forces ended up battling alongside the U.S. to oust the jihadists.

Each Sadr and the chief of the ex-combatant Conquest Alliance, Hadi al-Ameri, have pitched themselves as trying to sweep clear Iraqi politics.

Despite a setback, Abadi might still be granted a second term in office by parliament and on Monday he called on all political blocs to respect the results, suggesting he was willing to work with Sadr to form a government.

Iraq's many political factions mean a government may only be formed after drawn out negotiations. Sadr's nationalist alliance, Saeroun, as the front-runner, and Sadr himself as expected kingmaker.

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.

"We are prepared to contribute to the development and construction of Iraq", he concluded.

Abadi - who came to power as ISIS swept across Iraq in 2014 - has been a consensus figure who balanced off the USA and Iran.

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According to Iraq's official election commission, some 10.8 million Iraqis - out of 24 million eligible voters - took part in the vote, representing a turnout of 44.5 percent.

The commission did not announce how many seats each bloc had gained and said it would do so after announcing the results from the remaining provinces.

Crowds of mainly young people waved flags and pictures of the populist nationalist cleric Sadr while fireworks fired off into the night sky.

Zeid al-Zamili, 33, described the vote as "a victory over the corrupt" and a "new chapter for the Iraqi folks".

"We're done with corruption and the corrupt, we've suffered for years, now everything will change", added another supporter in a black t-shirt.

Supporters of Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr celebrate the results of the parliamentary election at the Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, on May 13, 2018.

"Today we finally have hope", said local Ghassan Matar.

Whoever emerges as premier will face the mammoth task of rebuilding a country left shattered by the battle against IS - with donors already pledging $30 billion (25 billion euros).

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