Sadr has led two uprisings against US forces in Iraq and is one of the few Shiite leaders to distance himself from Iran. Whoever wins the most seats must negotiate a coalition government in order to have a majority in parliament.
Yet, results suggest that there will be hung Parliament and the new government will likely be a coalition government.
Sadr faces a hard act to herd together enough groups from across Iraq's fragmented political spectrum to form a government.
O'Neill said al-Sadr cleverly renamed his "Mahdi Army" the "Peace Brigade" and said the name can be easily used as a propaganda tool to hurt people like Trump who oppose it.
Al-Abadi directed Iraqi forces to retake the city late past year after the Kurdish regional administration organized a referendum on independence that controversially included Kirkuk; federal forces moved in with little bloodshed as Kurdish forces withdrew.
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Al-Abadi has thus far allowed American military into Iraq to stage and fight ISIS and other terror groups.
Mr Al Sadr himself did not run in the election, so can not be appointed prime minister, but if his bloc's results are confirmed he may be in a position to determine Iraq's next leader.
Only 44.52 percent of about 24 million people eligible to vote participated in the consultation, a decrease of 15 percentage points, compared to 2014. It included full returns from only 10 of the country's 19 provinces, including the provinces of Baghdad and Basra. It says it will announce the remaining results Tuesday.
A document provided to Reuters by a candidate in Baghdad that was also circulating among journalists and analysts showed results from all 18 provinces.
If confirmed by Iraq's electoral commission, the results could upend the nation's political balance.
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According to preliminary results, second in the vote came Iranian-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, while the current PM al-Abadi's coalition was only third.
Suleimani has reportedly called for a union between Abadi's bloc, the Conquest Alliance of former anti-IS commander Ameri and former premier Nuri al-Maliki.
The remaining uncounted ballots, mostly from Iraqis overseas, the security services, and internally displaced people voting in camps and elsewhere, might change the final seat tallies but only marginally.
Strengthened by his apparent victory in Saturday's polls, black-turbaned Sadr could now push his nationalist agenda that has seen him pledge to curb foreign meddling in Iraq. The other winning blocks, though, will have to approve his nomination. In 2010's election, vice president Ayad Allawi's National Alliance won the largest number of seats but he was blocked from becoming prime minister, which he blamed on interference from Tehran.
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