A surprise election result in Iraq is likely to add to tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia and could push the country to become the next battleground for religious and political influence in the Middle East, according to oil market analyst Helima Croft.
With the majority of votes counted following a parliamentary election at the weekend, the "Sairoon" alliance of militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Iraq's communist party looks likely to gain the largest share of the vote, a surprise result given that pollsters predicted the re-election of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
In fact, al-Abadi's "Victory" coalition was in third place, trailing the "Conquest" coalition led by Iranian-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, AP reported.
If preliminary results are borne out in the final result, which is yet to be announced, al-Sadr won't become prime minister as he did not run for election himself. But he will be able to choose the next leader and could heavily influence Iraq's relations with key regional powers.
Still, it is expected that no one group will win enough seats required for an outright majority in parliament and it's likely that al-Sadr could form a coalition with Abadi, although negotiations could take months. Al-Abadi said Monday that he is ready to cooperate and work with all Iraqi parties to form a strong government, Iraqi News reported.