The commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force, Brigadier General Esmail Qaani briefly met with prominent Shia Iraqi cleric, Moqtada Al-Sadr, to discuss the future of Iraq's political sphere and Iran's "dominant" role in it, Reuters reported on Tuesday citing four Iranian and Iraqi officials.
According to the report, the meeting took place on 8 February at Al-Sadr's home in the city of Najaf and lasted half an hour, during which Al-Sadr received the general in his trademark brusque manner.
The meeting didn't go well.
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According to the Iraqi and Iranian officials, Al-Sadr wore a black-and-white Arab headdress and brown robe, a deliberate look to identify with the local Arab population and not the usual all-black vestments and Shia clerical turban he generally wears in public.
Al-Sadr's fashion statement, the officials said, echoed his nationalist political message: Iraq, as a sovereign Arab state, would forge its own path, free of meddling from its Persian neighbour, despite sectarian ties between the Shia-dominated countries.
"What does Iraqi politics have to do with you?" Al-Sadr challenged Qaani, according to one of the officials. "We don't want you interfering."
Al-Sadr has been a crucial force in Iraq for much of the two decades since the US invaded and overthrew Saddam Hussein.
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The sources explained that Qaani told Al-Sadr that if he included Tehran's allies in any coalition, Iran would recognise Al-Sadr as Iraq's main Shia political figure, no small gesture among the religious community's fractious leadership.
Al-Sadr, however, was unswayed. In a tweet after the meeting, he stressed his commitment to a government free of foreign interference. "Neither Eastern nor Western," he said, "A nationalist majority government."
Neither Iran nor Al-Sadr responded to requests for comment.