Pro-Iranian PMF challenge Iraq's election results
Iraq's election was a disaster for the pro-Iranian Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), also known as Hashd Al-Shaabi, with voters desperate for an economic recovery rather than shows of military muscle.
Hashd leaders have rejected the results as a "scam" and said they will appeal ahead of a final tally expected in the next few weeks.
According to preliminary results, the Conquest (Fatah) Alliance - the political arm of the multi-party Hashd - emerged with only around 15 MPs from the October 10th vote.
In the last parliament, it had 48 MPs, which made it the second largest bloc.
The big winner, with more than 70 seats according to the initial count, was the movement of Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia Muslim preacher who campaigned as a nationalist and critic of Iran.
Analysts say the results show that the mainly Shia Hashd alliance has failed to live up to the political expectations of Iraqis after entering parliament for the first time in 2018, following their major role in defeating the Islamic State jihadist group.
Opposition activists accuse Hashd's armed groups - whose 160,000 fighters are now integrated into Iraq's state security forces - of being beholden to Iran and acting as an instrument of oppression against critics.
The Fatah MPs are also seen as having a lack of vision for economic development in an oil-rich country plagued by failing public services and endemic corruption.
Grievances over corruption and mismanagement lie at the heart of the youth-led anti-government protest movement that began two years ago and led to this month's elections.
Unlike in the 2018 polls, Salwa, aged 22, said she did not vote for the alliance this time.
"All they came up with were hollow slogans," said the student, who did not give her last name.
"My father insisted my mother and I vote for the Conquest," but Salwa opted for former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who held the post between 2006 and 2014.
In the election's biggest surprise, Maliki, an ally of Hashd and a figure close to Iran, won more than 30 seats in the 329-seat parliament.
For political scientist Ihsan al-Shamari, the Hashd's weaponry was "a main cause" of its poor showing.
Its close ties with Iran and several instances of "appearing to be above the state" have also damaged its popularity, according to Shamari.
Since the October 2019 revolt, dozens of activists have been kidnapped or assassinated, and their movement blames the pro-Iranian camp.
Jalal Mohamed, a 45-year-old grocer, said he also did not vote for the Hashd.
"The country is in free-fall, while their leaders live in the [high security] Green Zone" insulated from everyday life, he said.
According to a source from within the pro-Iran camp, Hashd leaders have quarrelled and blamed each other for the election debacle after running rival candidates and fragmenting the vote.
"The different parties [in Hashd] tried to impose their own candidate in the same constituency and the votes were lost," said a source on condition of anonymity.
Analysts say Sadr will have to come to terms with the Hashd alliance in the negotiating process to form a government and name the new prime minister.
Harith Hasan, a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, puts Maliki's success down to running "strong candidates who resonated with the Shia electorate, associating [him] with a strong Shia state, rather than a state dominated by militias".
Maliki "attracted votes from social categories that benefited from his government's employment and patronage largesse when oil prices were at their highest," Hasan wrote in an analysis published by the Center.
On Saturday, a coalition of Shia parties to which the Hashd belongs took a harder line, blaming the electoral commission for "the failure of the electoral process" and warning against "the negative repercussions on the democratic path".