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Sadr Meets With Opponents, Looks To Reassure Iraqis

Followers of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rally in Tahrir Square in Baghdad ahead of the May 12 vote.

Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose coalition won the most seats in Iraq's recent parliamentary elections, says the country's next government will be "inclusive" and respectful of their wishes.

"Your government will take care of you and will be inclusive, we will not exclude anyone. We will work toward reform and prosperity," Sadr said on May 20 after meeting with Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, whose coalition finished a distant third to Sadr's.

None of the top three groups captured more than 50 parliamentary seats in the election, whose 44.5 percent turnout was Iraq's lowest since the country's first multiparty elections were held in 2005.

Talks on forming the government are expected to continue for months.

Sadr also met on May 20 with Hadi al-Amiri, whose Fatah Alliance finished second in the May 12 vote. Amiri has close ties to Iran, having spent more than two decades fighting former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from exile in Iran, and speaks fluent Persian.

Sadr's office said the cleric told Amiri that he wanted a government formed quickly to provide Iraqis with services and "express their legitimate aspirations."

Sadr, an anti-American firebrand with a large following among Baghdad's urban poor, was once leader of the Imam al-Mahdi Army, which battled U.S. forces in 2003.

The militia was disbanded in 2008 and replaced by his Peace Brigades, which helped push back Islamic State (IS) militant forces from areas near Baghdad in 2014 along with Iraqi government troops.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters