Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shia cleric in Iraq, sits with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right). (Photo: Saudi Press Agency)
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – An influential Shia cleric in Iraq on Saturday welcomed Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s upcoming visit, calling for an end to sectarian conflict amid protests across the country opposing the Saudi leader’s trip.
Hundreds of people gathered in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Friday to protest Salman’s planned visit with some holding signs calling the crown prince a war criminal and others which blamed Saudi Arabia for crimes committed by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq.
Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential Shia cleric in Iraq, meanwhile, called for Iraq to be kept out of sectarian conflicts in the Middle East, mainly issues between Iran and Saudi Arabia involving the current war against Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen.
“Iraq should not remain a battleground,” he said in response to a question at a gathering with his followers. “Iraq must open up to all of its neighbors.”
“Every visit should be taken in the interest of Iraq, not only the interest of the visitor or the interests of other countries. Otherwise, it will not be of any benefit to them,” Sadr explained, adding that “Iraq should emerge from sectarian strife in the region.”
The Shia cleric visited Saudi Arabia in July 2017 after Baghdad and Riyadh announced the formation of a coordination council to strengthen strategic ties as part of an effort to repair troubled relations between the two countries.
Salman is expected to visit Baghdad soon, but a date has not yet been set, according to the Iraqi Prime Minister’s press office.