Prominent Shi’ite Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr made an impromptu trip to Iran on Monday just hours after his supporters stormed, then retreated from, the Iraqi Parliament building inside the fortified Baghdad green zone that paralyzed the Iraqi government for hours. According to Ibrahim Al Jaberi, spokesperson for the Sadr office in Baghdad, al-Sadr departed for Iran Monday without providing any other details on the cleric’s itinerary.
It’s speculated that al-Sadr traveled to Tehran to help smooth tensions between Iran and the Iraqi government as well as repair the divisions going on in his own Shi’ite community, with the biggest division being al-Sadr supporters being angry with Iran for having as much influence as they do over matters in Iraq.
Tehran has funded and equipped Shiite militias to help combat the Islamic State, which now controls Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. Yet the Iran-backed militias have become powerful in their own right, on par now with the country’s army. As al-Sadr departed for Tehran, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Hossein Jaberi Ansari “expressed Iran’s readiness to use all its links in line with paving the way for Iraqi talks,” according to an official statement carried by Iran’s state-controlled news agency.
In the hours after protesters vacated the International Zone, Iran-backed Shi’ite militia groups began to take positions in downtown Baghdad, which could pit the various militia against the masses of Sadr supporters. However, this is not the same sentiment Tehran shares with the announcement of the cleric traveling to Iran. In fact, Tehran flat denies the media reports that al-Sadr has in fact traveled to the Islamic Republic at all.
“Moqtada al-Sadr has not traveled to Iran, nor does he have any plans for such a trip,”
Iranian News Agency cited an informed source as saying on Monday. Arabic media reports earlier said that Sadr had traveled to Najaf from Baghdad before boarding an Iran Air plane headed for Tehran.
Moqtada al-Sadr has had a tumultuous relationship with Iran for years and thanks to Islamic State, the toils in that relationship have subsided to an extent as Tehran funds and equips the Shia in Iraq to combat the terrorist group. Because of the support from Tehran for some of the Iraqi Shia, al-Sadr is faced with a divide amongst his own Shi’ite supporters that could very well cause a ‘war’ within the Shia communities; this is a delicate balancing act the cleric is faced with as the war on Islamic State is far from over and the fact that Iran’s influence in Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul.
The cleric has virtually no bartering ability with the Islamic Republic until those two main factors in the equation change. What are some additional reasons for Moqtada al-Sadr to travel to Iran and will he be able to convince Tehran that the Iran-backed Shia in Iraq should unite with his Shia supporters to stave off fighting between the two? Sound off in the comments below!