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Al-Sadr Coalition Headed to Victory in Iraqi Election

Followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, seen in the posters, celebrate in Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, May 14, 2018. Iraq's electoral commission announced al-Sadr as the early front-runner.

The coalition headed by fiery anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr appears headed to victory in Iraq's parliamentary election.

With nearly all the ballots counted, al-Sadr's Marching Toward Reform alliance was leading in six regions, followed by the group headed by Iraqi militia commander Hadi al-Amiri.

Current prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who is supported by the United States, trails both rivals but appeals to Iraqis to respect the final results.

Hundreds of al-Sadr backers rejoiced in the streets of Baghdad as partial results were announced. Some said it was the start of a "new chapter for the Iraqi people," while others called it the end of corruption.

Al-Sadr did not run for a seat in parliament and cannot become prime minister. But as head of a political alliance, he will play a major role in the deal-making and horse trading that goes into putting together an Iraqi government.

Al-Sadr is known as a tough-talking Shiite cleric whose militia fought both Islamic State and the U.S. forces that invaded Iraq in 2003.

He has transformed himself into an anti-corruption crusader and someone who said he can rebuild Iraq after the costly war against IS.

Saturday's election was Iraq's first since IS was defeated, but the turnout was just 44 percent — the lowest since dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003.