Iraq election thrown open as outsider alliances appear strong

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MOSUL, Iraq-Iraqis voted this weekend in their lowest numbers since the country became a democracy, reflecting growing political disenchantment even after Islamic State's defeat rallied the country together.

Iraq's electoral commission early on May 14 said Sadr's Alliance of Revolutionaries for Reform was in the lead with 10 of the country's 19 provinces reporting from the May 12 vote, including the population centers of Baghdad and Basra.

The prime minister declared final victory over the ultra hardline group in December but it still poses a threat from pockets along the border with Syria and has continued to carry out ambushes, assassinations and bombings across Iraq.

Abadi, a British-educated engineer who came to power four years ago after Islamic State seized a third of Iraq's territory, received USA military support for Iraq's army to defeat the Sunni Muslim militant group even as he gave free rein to Iran to back Shi'ite militias fighting on the same side. Voter turnout was around 44 percent.

Meanwhile, a source with the Al-Wataniya Alliance, which is led by former Vice-President Iyad Allawi, said the alliance was leading in four Sunni-majority provinces.

I f the surprise results are confirmed then it would throw open the race for Iraq's new premier, following the first elections after the defeat of IS.

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Less than 45% of eligible Iraqi voters cast ballots in an election that could tip a delicate balance between USA interests and those of Iraq's influential neighbor, Iran.

If parliament chooses him as prime minister, Abadi will remain under pressure to maintain that balancing act amid tensions between Washington and Tehran over the nuclear accord.

Iraqis voted for rival lists of candidates.

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. Victory for Amiri would be seen as a big a win for Iran, which has sought to increase its influence in Iraq and the wider region.

Under Iraq's multi-party, often sectarian system, Mr Abadi will be forced to rely on other parties to form a government. Dozens of alliances ran for office in these elections and months of negotiations are expected before any one alliance can pull together the 165 required seats.

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