May 16, 2018 / 11:53 AM / 7 months ago

Iran's Soleimani holds talks about future Iraqi cabinet

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani is holding talks with politicians in Baghdad to promote the formation of a new Iraqi cabinet which would have Iran’s approval, two people familiar with the political process underway in Iraq said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani uses a walkie-talkie at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province March 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Soleimani, commander of foreign operations for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, arrived in Iraq on Saturday, the day of the parliamentary election.

Initial nationwide results showed a surprise victory for the bloc that supports populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shi’ite not aligned with Iran who campaigned on a nationalist platform, tapping into public resentment against widespread corruption and huge social disparities.

Soleimani is holding talks with rival politicians to pave the way for an agreement to form a Shi’ite ruling coalition, said a person acting as an intermediary between Sadr, other senior politicians and a Shi’ite candidate.

Formal talks to set up a governing coalition will start after the announcement of the final results, expected later this week.

Before the election, Iran publicly stated it would not allow Sadr’s bloc - an unlikely alliance of Shi’tes, communists and other secular groups - to govern.

For his part, Sadr has made clear he is unwilling to compromise with Iran by forming a coalition with its main allies, Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr paramilitary group, and former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.

A tally by Reuters of provincial results announced over the past three days shows Sadr’s list leading, followed by Amiri, a close ally of Iran and a friend of Soleimani, and then outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Abadi managed to rally the support of both Iran and the United States in Iraq’s three-year war on Islamic State.

Saturday’s election was the first since the defeat last year of the militants who had overran a third of Iraq in 2014. Soleimani’s Quds Force is the main foreign backer of Amiri’s Badr, which served as the backbone of Popular Mobilisation, a volunteers force set up to fight Islamic State.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Editing by William Maclean

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