Iraqis have expressed hope for improved regional Shia-Sunni relations as Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr makes an official visit to the UAE.
Following a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, on Sunday, Sadr today met with a prominent Sunni cleric, Ahmed al-Kubaisi.
The Cleric Dr. Ahmed al-Kubaisi visits Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr at his residence in the UAE. What do you think of this rapprochement that is taking place?
Sadr and his Emirati counterpart discussed how to improve understanding between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, Reuters reported.
"The two sides emphasized the importance to act in true Islamic spirit and reject violence and extremist thought," read a statement on Sadr’s website.
Many Iraqis online praised the inter-sectarian efforts. The following are taken from comments replying to posts about the visit on the al-Khowa al-Nathifa and Steven Nabil Facebook pages, both popular news sources in Iraq.
Around 55 per cent of Iraqis are Shia, while approximately 40 per cent are Sunni, according 2017 data in the CIA Factbook.
The Shia majority faced oppression under Saddam Hussein, and Muqtada’s father Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr was a key opposition leader until his assassination in 1999. Muqtada himself led a militia, the Mahdi army, which fought against the US-led forces in Iraq in 2004, before taking part in Iraq’s sectarian civil war 2006-7.
Following the 2014 rise of Daesh in the north of Iraq, Sadr rebranded the militia as the Peace Companies and later reframed himself as a popular protest leader, leading recent demonstrations against alleged corruption.
Popular among Iraq’s Shia urban poor, he also draws support from many within the Sunni sect who welcome his opposition to Iranian influence in Iraq’s affairs.
The trip follows the controversial leader’s meeting with the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, a staunch opponent of Iran, last month.
After that visit, Sadr issued a call for the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (al-Hashd al-Shaabi) group of militias to be disbanded. The request was swiftly rejected by Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
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A further $10 million in Saudi aid was also arranged for Baghdad following that visit, while reports suggested that Sadr had instructed his followers to remove anti-Saudi slogans from the streets.
Not all Iraqis warm to Sadr and his growing friendliness with the Sunni-majority Gulf heavyweights, however. Many Shia Iraqis consider the Popular Mobilization Forces to be brave war heroes who fought against Daesh and are sceptical of Sadr's motives.
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