DAMASCUS, (AFP) – Self-exiled Iraqi radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr visited Damascus on Saturday from his base in Iran for talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Iraqi affairs.
During the meeting, Assad urged Iraqi leaders to quickly form a government and put an end to a four-month coalition stalemate, the official SANA news agency reported.
“Any delay to form a (national unity) government will have a negative impact on the situation in Iraq,” Assad was quoted as telling his guest, stressing that a new cabinet should be set up “as soon as possible.”
Iraqi politicians have failed to form a new government since former premier Iyad Allawi’s narrow victory over incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in the March 7 parliamentary polls.
The bloc of anti-US cleric Sadr, who is rarely seen in public and who lives in self-imposed exile in Iran, gained 39 seats in the new 325-strong parliament, against 91 for Allawi and 89 for Maliki – both Shiite Muslims.
Initially Sadr was opposed to the return of Maliki as prime minister but in May he said he removed his objection under certain conditions.
SANA quoted Sadr as praising Syria for its support of the Iraqi people and “for working in favour of security and stability in Iraq.”
Hazem al-Araji, a Sadr bloc MP, told AFP in Baghdad that the cleric travelled to Damascus “at the official invitation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss Iraqi affairs.”
Sadr’s visit to Syria – his second since July last year – comes after Iraqi legislators on Monday extended an inaugural parliamentary session by two weeks to give political leaders a chance to form a government.