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Sadr meets Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY) –¬†Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met with radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr less than 24 hours after Sadr’s bloc won parliamentary elections, the clearest sign so far that they could work together to form a coalition.

“We work in our meeting with His Eminence Muqtada al-Sadr, working together and with all the other blocs in order to expedite the formation of the government,” Abadi told a joint news conference.

“A strong government must be able to … provide services to citizens, provide security, provide prosperity and the required economic development.”

Sadr has been a longtime opponent of the United States, as opposed to Iranian influence in Iraq and can not become prime minister because he has not run for office.

But the victory of his bloc puts him in a strong position during the negotiations. Sadr’s bloc won 54 parliamentary seats, 12 more than Abbadi’s victory coalition.

“Our hand is extended to all, our door is open to all as long as he wants to build the homeland and be an Iraqi decision and be sovereign in his land and in his people,” Sadr said.

The Fatah bloc, led by Hadi al-Amiri, one of the most powerful figures in Iraq, came second. Amiri has maintained close ties with Iran for decades.

Before the election, Iran said it would not allow the Sadr bloc to rule Iraq, Tehran’s close ally. Iran has influenced the prime minister’s choice in the past.

Getting the largest number of seats in parliament does not give Sadr immediate guarantees that he will be able to choose the prime minister.

The parties must ally in an effort to form a bloc large enough to achieve a parliamentary majority required to present a candidate. The government must be formed within 90 days of official results, but negotiations are expected to continue for months.

The election was a blow to Abadi, but he could still become the consensus candidate for all parties because, during his premiership, he managed to deal with the various interests of the United States and Iran, each fighting the Islamic state.

In the past few days, Sadr has also met with Ammar al-Hakim, who was led by al-Hikma in seventh place and also met with ambassadors of neighboring countries including Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s biggest rival in the Middle East.