Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) Iran’s ambassador to Iraq has said that visits made by influential Shia Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates were part of Iraq’s domestic affairs.
Speaking in an interview with Iranian news agency ISNA, published in Arabic, Iraj Masjedi said recent visits by al-Sadr to Saudi Arabia and Emirates “do not suggest that Shi’ite groups or the Iraqi government were breaking away from Iran
“Invitations by Saudi Arabian authorities to Iraqi officials to visit their country seek to improve bilateral relations, and that’s what the Iraqi authorities want and welcome,” the ambassador told the agency. “Iraq is an independent country, and its relations with other countries are an internal issue,” he stated.
Masjedi said his country’s relations with the Iraqi government and Shi’ite groups remain strong. “Both countries enjoy very good relations, military and security cooperation….besides an economic exchange worth USD8 billion per year,” said Masjedi.
Al-Sadr headed United Arab Emirates on Sunday having received an official invitation for a visit. He met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
The announced visit has stirred more debates among observers about Sadr’s unusual diplomatic activity as he came back recently from Saudi Arabia, the arch regional rival of Iran, presumably the biggest patron of Shia political elites and political movements in the Middle East.
UAE is a close Saudi Arabia ally and an opponent to Iran’s regional politics.
Sadr visited Saudi Arabia for the first time in 11 years on July 30th, met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and discussed regional issues of common interest. While political commentators viewed the visit as a remarkable attempt to break away with the Iran-dominated Iraqi politics, others saw it as a balancing political act designed to get advantage from Sunni Saudi Arabia’s regional weight while staying on good terms with Shia Iran. Some also say it is an attempt by Sadr to embolden his image as a nationalist figure whose orientations can transcend sectarian calculations.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia visits come after apparent rapprochements between Baghdad and Sunni-ruled governments in the region. Besides Sadr, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Riyadh in June, and was followed by Iraqi Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji a month later. In February, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Iraq, where he voiced support for Iraq against terrorism.