Iraq's Sadr makes surprise Iran visit as government falters
Muqtada al-Sadr's visit to the Iranian capital was both surprising and significant, and comes just a day after hundreds of his supporters stormed through Baghdad's fortified Green Zone in an unprecedented security breach.
"[Sadr], who had declared a two-months withdrawal from public life, boarded an Iranian Airlines plane today for an unexpected visit to Tehran," a source in the National Iraqi Alliance political group told The New Arab.
No further details were released over the agenda of his visit.
Analysts believe that this is further indication of Iran's intervention in Iraq's political crisis.
Last year, embattled former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was said to have "fled" to Iran, when under threat of arrest.
It came after sweeping reforms were promised by Iraq's current leader Haider al-Abadi who swore to end the alleged corruption associated with his predecessor.
When Maliki returned, Abadi's reforms and promises to tackle corruption were frozen.
Many believe that Sadr - a firm opponent of the government and critic of Iran - could be brought into line after mobilising thousands of supporters against "corrupt politicians" and outside influence.
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"Sadr disrupted the Iraqi parliament's work by pulling out his deputies and calling for a cabinet reshuffle," political analyst Naim al-Mayahi told The New Arab.
"Iran will now dictate its terms to Sadr in a bid to gain a stronger influence on Iraq," Mayahi added.
But chants by demonstrators - the majority of whom are supporters of the Shia cleric - affirmed their rejection of Iranian influence.
"Iran out, out!," protesters cried, before pulling out of the Green Zone on Sunday when Sadr's office ordered their withdrawal.
Demonstrators broke into the fortified Green Zone, where Iraq's main government institutions are based, and stormed parliament to protest the culmination of weeks of political turmoil and inaction by parliament.
The unrest kicked off just minutes after Sadr wrapped up a news conference in the holy Shia city of Najaf during which he condemned the political deadlock.
The influential Shia leader accused Iraqi politicians of blocking efforts to implement political reforms aimed at combating corruption and waste.
Increasingly tense protests and a series of failed reform measures have paralysed Iraq's government as the country struggles to fight the Islamic State group and respond to an economic crisis sparked in part by a plunge in global oil prices