Shiite cleric Sadr liaising with Saudi Arabia and Qatar

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Azzaman, February 19, 2014

By Ali Latif

Falling out with Iran, Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr has turned to Sunni Gulf countries for support and financing, an adviser to Prime Minister Noori al-maliki said.

The adviser, Sami al-Askari, made the remarks only three days after the surprise decision by the powerful cleric to retire from political life in the country.

So far he has turned down pleas and pressure to reconsider his decision, which he had said was taken in protest against Maliki’s government performance, which he strongly denounced.

Sadr reiterated his harsh criticism of Maliki on Monday describing him as “a despot.” While he has shown no sign of a change of mind, he called for large-scale participation in the forthcoming elections.

Askari said it was difficult to predict what course of action Sadr would take in the future as it was not the first time for him to say he would withdraw to himself and have nothing to do with the government “though he looks more determined this time than before.”

“But one cannot deny the fact that Sadr is pursuing a new strategy and he may reconsider his decision based on new strategies and calculations,” he said.

Sadr, who leads a popular movement of millions of followers, shocked the Iraqi political scene when he announced that he was retiring from politics and that his political factions will have no representatives in parliament.

“This could be part of electioneering. No doubt Sadr achieved good results in the last general election held in 2010. His followers are clever … though conditions now differ,” Askari added.

He said until very recently some thought Sadr was even stronger than the prime minister himself.

“But following his latest stand particularly and his views in the aftermath of the events in the Province of Anbar, many of his followers started complaining about his incoherent attitudes,” Askari said.

Asked whether Sadr’s decision was in response to meddling by foreign countries, Askari said: “Sadr’s relations with Iran have worsened and he is receiving covert assistance from both Qatar and Saudi Arabia.”

He said he believed both Arab Gulf states might likewise have been shocked by his sudden decision to retire.