by Jamal Hashim
BAGHDAD, May 16 (Xinhua) -- A political coalition backed by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr made an advance in the Iraqi parliamentary election that is expected to bring changes to the Gulf state and draw a new political map if his coalition forms the next government.
The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has announced the preliminary results of over 90 percent of votes in Iraq's 18 provinces, which showed Sadr's al-Sa'iroon Coalition was the biggest winner in the country's parliamentary elections held on Saturday.
At the early stage of elections, the prominent cleric set up the al-Sa'iroon Coalition, a cross-sectarian, non-Islamic coalition including Iraq's communist party, nationalist and civil rights groups.
His coalition made a significant gain in the capital Baghdad, which has 71 of the 329 seats of the Iraqi parliament, the most among all Iraqi provinces.
The preliminary figures also showed the Iranian-backed al-Fath Coalition led by Hadi al-Ameri came in the second place, followed by the .al-Nasr Coalition led by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Political analyst Sabah al-Sheikh sees in the results a rise of Iraq's cross-sectarian and nationalist force in the aftermath of a war against the terrorist Islamic State (IS) group, which has displaced a large part of the Sunni community, while the Kurds are marred by disputes as a result of a controversial independence referendum.
"Such results are mainly attributed to the fact the latest elections showed the lowest turnout of about 45 percent in all Iraqi polls since 2003," Sheikh told Xinhua.
Government corruption is another factor to have kept disappointed voters away from polling stations.
Sadr is very popular in the poor Shiite communities mainly in central and southern Iraq. His followers used to hold massive rallies to protest political corruption, and it was his coalition's campaigning pledge to fight corruption.
"It wouldn't be easy for any coalition to defeat deep-rooted corruption," Sheikh said, citing power sharing as a basis for agreements on forming a government.
However, for the first time in years in Iraq, the atmosphere and new faces in politics raise the hope for forming a less-sectarian, more inclusive and accountable government, he said.
Sadr, not a candidate in the elections, is expected to have a strong say in the nomination for Iraq's next prime minister.
"In the Iraqi coalition there is no big winner that can get an absolute majority in the next parliament to form a government. The leading Sa'iroon is expected to garner some 60 seats and the rest take less, therefore it must enter into tough negotiations with other winning coalitions to forge a largest alliance that would form the new government," Sheikh said.
Sheikh believes one scenario is likely: that Sadr's Sa'iroon would work together with Abadi's al-Nasr Coalition to attract other Sunni groups in an effort to build the largest alliance.
IMPACT ON REGIONAL CONFLICTS
Sadr has a reputation for opposing the political influence from both the United States and Iran and is prone to better relations with Arab countries. Meanwhile, he has supported the moderate rule of U.S. ally Abadi.
Political expert Nadhim al-Jubouri believes that things are changing in Iraq and the next government will be different.
"The win of al-Sa'iroon gives a hint that Iraq's upcoming government could be inclusive and headed by someone who is not biased to any of the conflicting parties in the Middle East," Jubouri said.
Sadr has also suggested he serve as a broker and peacemaker in the Middle East, Jubouri said.
In April, Sadr offered mediation to resolve the differences between Saudi Arabia and Iran in order to reduce the impact of their disputes on Iraq as well as the Middle East.
Najib Khalaf, political expert and lecturer with the University of Baghdad, deemed the Iraqi parliamentary election partly as a competition between the United States and Iran in Iraq, which was disrupted by Sadr's gain that reflected a will of the Iraqi voters against both.
"The election results represent a strong national signal that rejects the influences of both the United States and Iran, despite the two being the strongest allies of Iraq," Khalaf said.
Regardless of who becomes the next prime minister, he will have to deal with the U.S. withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear accord. "The next prime minster will be under pressure to keep the balance of Iraq's relations with Washington and Tehran," Khalaf said.