'Both Iran & US lost in Iraq election, betted on different candidates'
A Shia cleric with strong anti-American views looks on course to become the most powerful figure in Iraqi politics. Muqtada al-Sadr's coalition is sweeping to victory in the parliamentary election. Al-Sadr is known to be an outspoken critic of the US military presence in Iraq and an opponent to Iran. He led two revolts against American forces after their 2003 invasion.
While Washington called the Shia militia loyal to al-Sadr the biggest threat to Iraq's security, some Iraqis support him for his religious beliefs, while others see him as a symbol of resistance against the US.
Middle East expert Sabah Alnasseri, an associate professor at York University in Toronto, told RT the election result could have a major impact on Iraqi relations with the US.
RT: Muqtada al-Sadr is known for his anti-American views and led two uprisings against US troops in 2003. How could Iraqi-American relations change after his victory?
Sabah Alnasseri: Let me just start with three remarkable facts about this election... This is the lowest turnout of election since 2003, only 44 percent of the Iraqi population voted, which means 56 didn't vote because they are frustrated with the status quo and with corruption, etc. The second thing is that both Iran and the US lost in the election because they betted on different candidates, both of them became second and third. And third, much more promising, is that for the first time in 15 years you have a cross-sectarian, religious/secular… coalition between Muqtada al-Sadr and the communist and several other currents and movements in Iraq, which is something very promising for a new start and new for Iraq… The Iraqi people prove all the predictions [of who would win] wrong.
Muqtada al-Sadr and his movement, since 2003, they opposed the Iraqi occupation, although they were against Saddam Hussein. But that doesn't mean that they betted on the American occupation to bring democracy and reform Iraq. They knew exactly it was about occupation, there were military and economic interest for the US rather than the interest of the Iraqi people. They waged an armed struggle against the American occupation… and then they abandoned this armed struggle and joined the political process. And nobody actually in the last few years predicted that the al-Sadr movement would ever win the election in Iraq. So, winning the election in Iraq is of course a setback for the US, but also a setback for Iran. And [it's] much more in accordance with… the Iraqi national independent politics.
RT: Why has the nationalist agenda promoted by al-Sadr become so popular in Iraq?
SA: There is a sense among the Iraqis, especially also among the Al-Sadrists, that a lot of conflicts, recent conflicts in Iraq, ISIS, were mostly due to the US occupation and US tolerance for such extremist groups. So, they are against the influence or the presence of the US troops and advisers within Iraq because they think they are part of the problem rather than solution.
There might be some sort of conflict or disagreement between the new government and the US on whether and how the US can keep some sort of presence within Iraq. The US will have much more difficult times ahead dealing with this incoming government than with Abadi and al-Maliki before.