In this May 14, 2018 file photo, supporters of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, carry his image as they celebrate in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq. (HADI MIZBAN / AP)
BAGHDAD - Populist Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has retained his lead in Iraq's May parliamentary election, results of a nationwide manual recount of votes announced by the electoral commission showed early on Friday.
Iraq's Independent High Election Commission (IHEC) released on its website early on Friday the results of the recount, which parliament ordered in June after widespread allegations of fraud cast doubt on the integrity of the electoral process.
IHEC said the results of the recount matched the initial results from 13 of Iraq's 18 provinces.
Three months after the vote, the winning parties are still embroiled in negotiations over forming the next governing coalition, with no sign of an imminent conclusion.
The recount did not alter the initial results significantly. A group of Iran-backed Shi'ite militia leaders remained second behind Sadr's bloc, with incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's bloc still in third place.
Abadi, who is seeking a second term in office, is heading a fragile caretaker government, in place until a new administration is formed.