BAGHDAD – Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, who has extensive influence and close ties with Iran, made an unusual public appearance in Turkey. While there, he met senior Turkish officials, in what some analysts describe as an attempt to raise his profile and status as an intermediary in the region.
Al-Sadr has stayed out of the limelight for some time now. Although he has delivered statements and comments during Friday prayers and posted comments on his website through his personal assistants, the last time he appeared openly was on March 25, when he gave a speech in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf.
Analysts and observers are puzzled about the reasons for his sudden return to the public arena. Foreign Policy magazine carried a report on May 3 taken from the Turkish press that the cleric, whose Mahdi Army has clashed with American forces many times, met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul to hold security talks and to discuss strategies to improve Turkey’s relations with Iraq and Iran.
In spite of a history of troubled relationships with Iraqi President Nouri Al-Maliki’s government and American forces, who are trying to restore order to the country, Al-Sadr is extremely popular among his Shiite followers. He also has the support of 30 of the 275 members of the Iraqi parliament.
Analysts have speculated that in the run up to the Iraqi parliamentary elections later this year, Al-Sadr is working to rally his Shiite base and to promote the Sadrist movement as the voice of resistance in Iraq.
During his visit to Turkey, one of Al-Sadr’s assistants told Gulf News, “We must lay down our arms. We will not raise our arms, especially against the Iraqi army.” He went on to say, however, that, “We will continue our resistance, though. There are economic and political issues pending. We continue to support the resistance against the foreign forces that invaded our country.”
Sources: Foreign Relations Committee /