By Raya Jalabi

BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 20 (Reuters) – Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose political bloc was declared the winner of Iraq’s parliamentary election, met Hadi al-Amiri, leader of a pro-Iran bloc, on Sunday in what Sadr portrayed as part of an inclusive discussion about government formation.

During the meeting, the political rivals discussed the results of the 2018 parliamentary elections, according to a statement from Sadr’s office.

“The process of government formation must be a national decision and importantly, must include the participation of all the winning blocs,” the statement said.


Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr meets with ambassadors of Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Kuwait, in Najaf, Iraq May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani

Winning the largest number of seats does not automatically guarantee that Sadr will be able to hand-pick a prime minister.

As no electoral list won an outright majority, negotiations to form a coalition government are expected to drag on for months.

Amiri’s Al-Fatih bloc came second. One of the most powerful figures in Iraq, Amiri heads an umbrella of paramilitary groups, and has maintained close ties with Iran for decades.

Sadr, a long-time adversary of the United States who also opposes Iranian influence in Iraq, cannot become prime minister because he did not run in the election. However, the victory of his Sairoon bloc puts him in a position to have a strong say in negotiations.

Before the election, Tehran publicly stated it would not allow Sadr’s bloc to govern close ally Iraq, with which it shares a border. Iran has influenced the choice for prime minister in the past.

The meeting with Amiri came less than 24 hours after the populist cleric met with incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, hinting at a possible coalition.

Abadi’s electoral list trailed Amiri in third place, but he could still emerge as a compromise candidate. Abadi is seen as palatable to all sides because he has managed the competing interests of the United States and Iran – uneasy allies in the war against Islamic State – during his term in office.

(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Dale Hudson, William Maclean)