But with the vote tallied in 10 of the country's 19 provinces, he was in third, well behind both Sadr and an alliance of paramilitary factions, many of which are supported by Iran and led by Shiite militia leader Hadi Ameri.
None of the competing blocs appear on track to win a majority in parliament and name a prime minister.
Among the traditional powerbrokers looking set to lose big at the election was divisive former premier Nuri al-Maliki, who remains widely reviled for the loss of territory to ISIL.
Iraq's election commission says the results of the first national vote since declaring victory over the Islamic State group are expected within two days.
Sadr has reinvented himself as an anti-graft crusader after rising to prominence as a powerful militia chief whose fighters battled United States troops after the 2003 invasion.
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But his spokesman said Sadr supports honoring commitments between Iraq and the United States concerning the training of Iraq's security forces and weapons purchases as long as they serve Iraq's interests and there "is no interference on the sovereignty of Iraq".
Iran has held major sway over Iraq's governments since the 2003 war ended Sunni minority rule, but campaigning saw multiple appeals to Iraqi nationalism, especially from al-Sadr.
That means it is entirely possible that Sadr could pick the next Iraqi government by deciding which political party to form a coalition with.
"Hes the only politician with a clear vision for Iraq", said a Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity to give a frank assessment of Sadr. Endemic corruption has eaten at the government's financial resources. Iran has publicly stated it would not allow his bloc to govern.
Whoever wins the election will have to contend with the fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to quit the Iran nuclear deal, a move Iraqis fear could turn their country into a theatre of conflict between Washington and Tehran.
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It's a big achievement for us. "The players went about it really well, with a great attitude and commitment". So he starts the match but I will make the change in some moment so he can leave the pitch alone".
The influence of Moqtada al-Sadr, the 44-year-old Shia cleric whose Sairoon coalition has emerged as a leading player on Iraq's political scene, is as much about his family name as his personality, theological learning or political acumen. It is the lowest voter turnout rate in Iraq in the past 13 years.
Sadr's electoral list, however, fell far short of a majority.
Fahmy told his party's website that Abadi's bloc was "closer" to Sadr's than others.
Iraqis voted for rival lists of candidates.
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