Once a thorn in the US’s side, the radical Shia cleric who led a militia against coalition forces in Iraq now looks set to win the election and could now be America’s best hope of keeping Iran at bay.

Mr Sadr made his name leading two uprisings against US forces in Iraq with his Mehdi Army, drawing support from poor neighbourhoods of Baghdad and other cities.

The US occupation authority issued an arrest warrant for him for his alleged role in the murder of a rival cleric, calling Mr Sadr the biggest threat to Iraq’s security.

The 44-year-old radical has reinvented himself as an anti-corruption crusader, disavowing violence against fellow Iraqis and in 2008 ordered his militia to become a humanitarian…

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