BAGHDA–Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has tried to share in the limelight and project himself as a pragmatic statesman on the occasion of the Baghdad Summit for Cooperation and Partnership.
On the eve of the summit, Sadr announced the reversal of his decision to boycott the early parliamentary elections scheduled for this October.
The Sadrist movement will enter the electoral contest hoping to achieve a comfortable parliamentary majority that would allow it to form the next Iraqi government.
Sadr seeks to take advantage of the failure of his major rivals in the Shia political camp to lead the country.
He voiced support for the summit, which brought together regional leaders in addition to French President Emmanuel Macron.
The gathering was hosted by Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
Sadr tweeted, “Iraq can play an important role in establishing security and stability in the Middle East”.
He knows that, since 2003, the choice of Iraq’s rulers has been determined by an American-Iranian consensus, despite the intense competition that pits Washington against Tehran for influence over the country.
The leader of the Sadrist movement wants to shed the image of a sectarian religious leader and armed militia chief, assuming instead the mantle of a responsible statesman.
He said, holding the summit “is very important from an economic and security perspective and it is a clear indication of the importance of Iraq in the region.”
He added, “The summit was successful in bringing together many parties and Iraq can play a major role in establishing security and stability in the Middle East.”
Sadr also thanked Salih and Kadhimi, lauding the prime minister for “the effective impact he had in opening up to the international and regional environment, especially the Arab world.”
His words reflected Sadr’s support for the present Iraqi administration, though he had vowed in the past not to back any current or future governments.
On Saturday, the Iraqi capital hosted the Baghdad Summit for Cooperation and Partnership, with the participation of both Saudi Arabia and Iran.
This, of itself, was considered an achievement for the diplomacy of Salih and Kadhimi.
Overcoming the country’s instability and restoring its crumbling economy requires balanced relations with major regional players. This was Kadhimi’s goal behind the summit.
The countries taking part in the conference voiced their support for the stability of Iraq and its government’s efforts to “strengthen state institutions in accordance with constitutional mechanisms and to hold parliamentary elections under international supervision to ensure the integrity and transparency of the expected voting process.”
In their final statement, the leaders and representatives of participating countries welcomed “Iraq’s efforts to reach a common ground with the regional and international neighbours.”
The summit was held in the run-up to Iraq’s next parliamentary elections, which some consider as a last chance for change in the country that has been languishing for eighteen years under the rule of a group of religious parties and armed Shia factions under a cloud of suspected corruption and ineptitude .
The leader of the Sadrist movement senses his opportunity to achieve a watershed victory in the forthcoming elections as he seeks to boost his leadership credentials amid factional and political adversity.