Iraqi Shiite politician Muqtada al-Sadr was in Iran and met Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei during the religious Ashura mourning gathering on September 10. It is not clear if he is still in the country.
Official photos released show the maverick cleric sitting next to Khamenei, flanked by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Qods force commander Qassem Soleimani.
Sadr, who emerged in Iraq as an influential Shiite leader after the U.S. invasion, who formed the Army of Mahdi militia had close relations with Tehran but in recent years, he adopted a more independent position.
In July 2017, Sadr visited Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch-rival in the region and signaled a willingness to draw closer to the United States and its allies.
Last year, there were reports of a mediation effort by Hassan Nasrallah the leader of Lebanese Hezbollah, who reportedly brought Sadr and Soleimani together in a meeting. Nasrallah later denied these reports.
Sadr’s political bloc, which includes communists, won 54 seats in the Iraq’s May 2018 legislative elections, making it the largest grouping in Iraq’s 329-seat parliament. Abadi’s bloc came in third with 42 seats.
After the elections, Sadr moved closer to pro-Iran militia groups in Iraq, forging a political alliance.