Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) Influential Shia cleric and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr will set on a European tour responding to official invitations, a newspaper reported on Friday.
London-based al-Hayat said Sadr is preparing for a tour including France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Vatican, and would hold meetings with senior officials at those countries.
The purpose of the visit, as the paper put it, will not differ from that of his recent Arab region tour, focusing on Iraq’s openness to other countries and encouragement of investments in the war-torn country, especially in the reconstruction of terrorism-hit areas.
Al-Sadr headed United Arab Emirates earlier this month, 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 unexpected diplomatic orientations as he came back days earlier from Saudi Arabia, the arch regional rival of Iran, presumably the biggest patron of Shia political elites and political movements in the Middle East.
While political commentators viewed Sadr’s visits to Iran’s longtime regional rivals a remarkable attempt to break away with the Iran-dominated Iraqi politics, others saw they were 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 Sadr was seeking 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.