US Strikes Supportive Note as Former Foe Leads in Iraqi Election



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U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that the United States stands by Iraqis' electoral choices, despite the surprise success of populist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who fought U.S. troops during the Iraq War.

Mattis praised Iraq's move toward democracy.

"The Iraqi people had an election. That's a democratic process at a time when many people doubted that Iraq could take charge of themselves," he told reporters.

With official results from Saturday's election still pending, al-Sadr's Marching Toward Reform alliance is leading in nearly all regions.

Current prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who is supported by the United States, Tuesday said that if a new electronic voting system used in the election was found to be faulty, the election commission should hold a nationwide recount, state television reported.

Al-Abadi said at the least, a manual recount should be held in the northern province of Kirkuk after accusations of fraud and faulty machines were made there.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Washington was aware of the charges.

"I can just say the independent high electoral commission — that's basically the Iraqi equivalent of the federal election commission — they are investigating. They are taking a close look at allegations of fraud and intimidation," she said.

Nauert added that "international observers who were on the ground, as well ... have reported to us that they found the elections to be credible."

The Pentagon also struck a supportive note.

"We do not support any particular candidate or party, rather we support a fair and transparent process," spokesman Eric Pahon said. "We stand ready to work with whoever is fairly elected by the Iraqi people."

Al-Sadr did not run for a seat in parliament and cannot become prime minister. But as head of a political alliance, he will play a major role in the deal-making and horse trading that goes into putting together an Iraqi government.