Iraq's al-Sadr, promising reform, is constrained by Iran
Iraq's Muqtada al-Sadr, the maverick Shiite cleric whose political coalition beat out Iran's favoured candidates to come in first in national elections, says he wants to form a government that puts Iraqis first.
The electoral commission announced early on Saturday that the militant-turned-populist preacher, who has long spoken out against both Iranian and US influence in Iraq, had defeated his establishment rivals.
Al-Sadr - who is remembered for leading an insurgency against US forces after the 2003 invasion - did not run for a seat himself and is unlikely to become prime minister but will command a significant number of seats and has already begun informal talks about government formation.
Salah al-Obeidi, a spokesman for al-Sadr's Sa'eroun political bloc, told The Associated Press that Iraq's sovereignty was going to be the new government's "guiding principle".
"We warn any other country that wants to involve itself in Iraqi politics not to cross the Iraqi people," he said.
However, even as al-Sadr is in position to nominate a prime minister and set the political agenda for the next four years, he will find his choices limited by Iran.
The Middle East's pre-eminent Shiite power has a direct line with some of Iraq's most powerful politicians, and it is trying to rally them as a bloc to undercut al-Sadr.
Al-Sadr's rise threatens Iran's claim to speak on behalf of Iraq's Shiite majority, a precedent that could fuel independent Shiite movements elsewhere. Also at stake are top ministerial posts - political appointments that are a source of patronage and police and military power.