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Page last updated at 17:41 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 18:41 UK

Iraq cleric attends Turkey talks

Moqtada Sadr meets Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (1 May 2009)
Moqtada Sadr last appeared in public at a mosque in Iraq in June 2007

The Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has made his first public appearance in nearly two years, attending talks in Turkey on the future of Iraq.

Officials said he met both Turkey's president and the prime minister.

The powerful cleric had fiercely opposed the foreign presence in Iraq and his Mehdi army fought troops until he suspended the movement last year.

He last spoke in public at a mosque in Iraq in June 2007 and has since issued statements through his aides.

An unnamed Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said that in light of the "increasingly normalised" situation in Iraq, Moqtada Sadr was in the country for "political consultations with the Turkish authorities".

Reports from Ankara said he met both President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but there was no official comment after the talks.

Haidar al-Turfi, a senior aide to Moqtada Sadr, confirmed the visit and said the cleric had travelled to Turkey from Iran, where the US had previously believed he was living.

He said the visit was to meet a delegation from the Iraqi city of Najaf and to "hold discussions with the Turkish side about the situation in Iraq and its future".

Moqtada Sadr has a significant following among Iraq's Shia Muslims but stopped appearing in public after a speech at a mosque in Iraq in June 2007.

His Mehdi army militia, which once numbered tens of thousands of fighters, has observed a ceasefire since August 2007 that is widely credited with reducing sectarian tensions and contributing significantly to a fall in violence.

In August 2008, Moqtada Sadr gave order for the militia to suspend its activities, giving up the strongholds of Baghdad and southern Iraq.

Turkish media said he was expected to continue his visit in Istanbul over the weekend.



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