DAMASCUS (AFP) – Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki held talks Wednesday with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus after a year-long row as he seeks to win support for his bid to remain in power.
The meeting between the two leaders got under way soon after Maliki arrived in the Syrian capital in the morning, the official SANA news agency reported, without elaborating.
Maliki will also hold talks with his Syrian counterpart Mohammed Naji Otri during the trip, which comes two weeks after his main rival for the premiership, ex-premier Iyad Allawi, visited Damascus.
The Iraqi premier’s office said Tuesday that his visit to “our brother country” was aimed at improving ties “in the political, economic and commercial sectors in the interests of both countries.”
Maliki’s mission to Damascus was part of a series of visits “to different Arab capitals in response to invitations which he has received,” it added.
It comes as Maliki seeks support for his bid to retain the premiership after March 7 elections in which his Shiite bloc finished a narrow second behind Allawi’s Sunni-dominated Iraqiya group.
Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose radical movement controls 40 seats in parliament, has thrown its support behind Maliki, whose party still falls short of the parliamentary majority needed to form a government.
Maliki needs the support of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, another Shiite group, headed by Ammar al-Hakim, to forge a new administration.
He hopes that Hakim, who has close ties with Syria, will soften his opposition to his candidacy.
On Sunday, Iraq’s ambassador to Damascus resumed his duties, more than a year after ties were strained following massive truck bombings in Baghdad. Iraq said the attacks were plotted in Syria, a charge denied by Damascus.