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Supporters of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr celebrate the results of the parliamentary election at the Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq. Photo: Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The political coalition of Moqtada al-Sadr — a firebrand nationalist Shiite cleric — has surprisingly emerged as the presumptive winner of Iraq’s first national parliamentary election since the country declared victory over ISIS.

Why it matters: Sadr has long been a staunch critic of the U.S., so a victory for his alliance means Iraq's next government is likely to be hostile to the U.S. And while Sadr is not formally a candidate for prime minister, he has vast political influence over his followers.

What’s happening now:

  • With more than 91% of the vote counted, Sadr’s alliance is leading an Iranian-backed coalition tied to a paramilitary group, with U.S.-backed incumbent prime minister Haider al-Abadi in third, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Sadr's spokesman says he is seeking to form a government with allies who agree with his platform of "ending the practice of awarding ministries on sectarian quotas, fighting corruption and allowing independent technocrats to manage key government agencies," per the NY Times.

What to know about Sadr:

  • Sadr led violent uprisings, through his militia known then as the Mahdi Army, against U.S. troops following the 2003 U.S.-led Iraq invasion. He was a fierce opponent of the American occupation.
  • In 2004, an Iraqi judge issued a warrant for murder against Sadr after his supporters carried out riots in some parts of the country, leaving eight U.S. troops and dozens of Iraqis dead.
  • Sadr's Shiite militia was blamed for the mass killings of Sunni civilians during the height of Iraq’s civil war. Ranj Alaaldin, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, writes that "The Mahdi Army played a central role in fueling Iraq's devastating sectarian conflict."

Political reinvention:

  • Sadr returned to Iraq in 2011 after three years of self-imposed exile in Iran, and positioned himself as a nationalist. He aligned himself with civil society groups and their calls for better governance and equitable distribution of resources.
  • Sadr has bolstered his regional support and image, Al Jazeera reports, citing his rare visit to Saudi Arabia and meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah last year. He now speaks out against Iranian influence, per the FT.
  • His coalition ran a pro-reform, anti-corruption, anti-establishment campaign. He also says he supports a more secular government run by “technocrats” rather than career politicians.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
25 mins ago - Economy & Business

How GameStop exposed the market

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Retail traders have found a cheat code for the stock market, and barring some major action from regulatory authorities or a massive turn in their favored companies, they're going to keep using it to score "tendies" and turn Wall Street on its head.

What's happening: The share prices of companies like GameStop are rocketing higher, based largely on the social media organizing of a 3-million strong group of Redditors who are eagerly piling into companies that big hedge funds are short selling, or betting will fall in price.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
1 hour ago - Health

Who benefits from Biden's move to reopen ACA enrollment

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Nearly 15 million Americans who are currently uninsured are eligible for coverage on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, and more than half of them would qualify for subsidies, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation brief.

Why it matters: President Biden is expected to announce today that he'll be reopening the marketplaces for a special enrollment period from Feb. 15 to May 15, but getting a significant number of people to sign up for coverage will likely require targeted outreach.

2 hours ago - Technology

Big Tech bolts politics

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Big Tech fed politics. Then it bled politics. Now it wants to be dead to politics. 

Why it matters: The social platforms that profited massively on politics and free speech suddenly want a way out — or at least a way to hide until the heat cools. 

You’ve caught up. Now what?

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