Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr has claimed victory for Saeroun’s nationalist movement in Iraqi elections.
Sadr, who wants to end US and Iranian influence over Iraq’s internal affairs, vowed to form a government free from foreign interference.
Partial results showed Saeroun won 73 of the 329 seats in parliament and Sunni Chairman Mohammed al-Halbousi’s Taqaddum coalition was second with 38 seats.
The pro-Iran Fatah Alliance suffered a surprising setback, gaining just 14 seats.
It will likely take weeks of negotiations to build a new governing coalition, which Sadr cannot lead because he is not running as a candidate.
But the record low official turnout of 41% shows many Iraqis do not believe there will be any real change to the power-sharing system, based on sectarian and ethnic identity, that has allowed a narrow elite to remain in power since the US-led invasion in 2003.
Sunday’s election was the first since mass protests over government corruption, high unemployment and dire public services erupted in 2019.
The poll was scheduled for next year but was moved forward by six months in response to the unrest, in which more than 550 demonstrators were killed by security forces and gunmen suspected of links to Iran-backed Shia militias within the Popular Mobilization Paramilitary forces.
The old electoral system was also replaced with one intended to make it easier for independent candidates to challenge established parties.
Preliminary results released late Monday showed that Saeroun won 19 more seats than he had in the last election in 2018, the state-owned Iraq News Agency (INA) reported.
Sadr hailed the result as a victory for reforms and for Iraq as a whole.
“This is the day of the victory of reform over corruption. The day of victory of the people over occupation, normalization, militias, poverty, injustice and slavery,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television.
“This is a day when sectarianism, ethnicity and partisanship are defeated. This is Iraq day and we are servants of the Iraqi people,” he said.
The figure warned foreign powers that all embassies would be welcomed “as long as they do not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs and government formation”, and that any intervention would be “responded with a diplomatic or even popular response”.
Sadr, 47, is one of Iraq’s most famous and powerful figures.
A son of the late Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, he rose to prominence after the 2003 invasion as an outspoken opponent of the foreign occupation and the head of a militia that repeatedly clashed with US forces.
In recent years, he has reshaped himself as an anti-corruption campaigner and also distanced himself from Iran, vowing that he “will not leave Iraq in its grip”.
He also criticized Iran-backed militias, which have developed significant political and economic power since helping the Iraqi government defeat the Sunni jihadist group Islamic State in 2017.
Fatah leader Hadi al-Ameri, a militia commander with close ties to the hardline leadership in Tehran, rejected the election results.
“We will not accept this false result, at any cost, and we will defend the votes of our candidates and voters with full force,” he was quoted as saying by Al-Sumaria TV on Tuesday.