Assad's Grand Mufti snubbed by Iraq's Sunni clerics
Syria's Grand Mufti was stood up this week by Sunni clerics in Baghdad while he was on a state visit to organise a religious conference.
Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun - a staunch defender of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - was given the cold shoulder on Wednesday when he tried to meet with the clerics to discuss a proposed conference on combating the Islamic State group [IS].
"The purpose of the mufti's visit to Baghdad was to convince Sunni religious leaders to hold a meeting next month between Iraq and Syria's Sunni clerics to discuss combating religious extremism coming into the countries from abroad," a government official told The New Arab's Iraq correspondent Ahmad al-Nuaimi.
An official in the Sunni Endowments said that on Wednesday Hassoun had been snubbed by clerics when he went to meet with them at the Abu Hanifa Mosque - one of the most prominent Sunni mosques in Baghdad and headquarters of the Islamic Fiqh Council.
"He was not received by anyone at the council even though he sent out a message in advance that he was coming," the official said.
The spokesman of the Fiqh Council later said in a statement that Hassoun had been "very late for his evening prayer appointment", prompting members of the group to leave before he arrived.
The mufti did, however, meet with pro-government Sunni cleric Khalid al-Mulla to discuss the conference.
Political analyst Baqir al-Jabri said that Hassoun's trip to Iraq had been a failure because he is unpopular with many Sunnis in Iraq.
"Nobody met with him because he was unwelcome. This upcoming conference between Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis will be a total failure similar to the Chechnya meeting in August," Jabri said, referring to a controversial Sunni conference in Russia that excluded Salafis - the official Islamic school of thought in Saudi Arabia.
"Hassoun is disliked by many Iraqis, especially those in areas living in flashpoint areas that have been oppressed and harmed by the Shia-majority Iraqi government, which is an ally of Assad."
The mufti has appeared alongside Assad during his rare public appearances at religious ceremonies.
In September, he was there when the embattled leader observed Eid al-Adha prayers in a Damascus suburb that had recently surrendered to regime forces after a brutal four-year siege.