Iraq’s first post-ISIS election: Nation votes as US closely watches pro-Iran candidates

Iraqi people are heading to polls in the first parliamentary election since the defeat of Islamic State in the country. The US is closely watching the election, as at least two key candidates have expressed support for Iran.

Roughly 24.5 million voters in the war-scarred country will choose among candidates for 329 parliamentary seats this Saturday, with almost 7,000 people running for election. Incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who took over in 2014, faces stiff competition from candidates with closer ties to Iran, including his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki and former transport minister Hadi al-Amiri.

Amid heightened rivalry and tensions between Iran and the US over the Iranian nuclear deal, al-Abadi has repeatedly stressed the policy of neutrality and his intention to steer clear of all conflicts. 

Unlike al-Abadi, al-Maliki, who pushed for US troop withdrawal, and al-Amiri are seen as being much closer to Tehran. Al-Amiri, who speaks fluent Persian, once fought IS terrorists alongside Baghdad’s troops. A hardline militia commander, the 63-year old heads the powerful paramilitary Badr Brigades group, which is backed by Tehran.

READ MORE: Iraqi air forces carry out strikes on ISIS positions in Syria

The US is closely watching the Iraqi election, and has insisted that Iran is interfering with the voting process. Back in March, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis claimed that Washington had “worrisome evidence that Iran is trying to influence – using money – the Iraqi elections.”

“That money is being used to sway candidates, to sway votes. It's not an insignificant amount of money, we believe. And we think it's highly unhelpful,” he added

Author and writer Abdel Bari Atwan believes that the American administration could be “the biggest loser from the Iraqi election.”

“We have three camps fighting to win this election. The Americans only have one strong ally – Hader al-Abadi, who is considered a moderate and who is trying to keep the Iraqi alliance with the US,” he told RT, but added that he had doubts as to whether al-Abadi could secure victory.

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