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What's behind controversial Iraqi cleric's visit to Saudi Arabia?

Top Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has shifted his domestic and regional policies, adopting a stance independent of Iran.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia July 30, 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RTS19RFH

For the first time in 11 years, Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement, visited Saudi Arabia at the official invitation of the kingdom. On July 30, Sadr met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The visit is part of Sadr's efforts to keep a balance in his relations with neighboring countries in a bid to ease sectarian tensions in Iraq and strengthen his position as an Iraqi leader.

Saudi-Iraqi relations have recently witnessed a breakthrough following a period of lukewarm relations that started in the early 1990s. Senior officials of the two governments have recently exchanged visits and talked about developing relations between the two countries in various fields. But the significance of Sadr's recent visit lies in the fact that he is a religious and political leader from a prominent Hawza-affiliated family. What makes the visit even more paramount is the shift in Sadr's approach to the domestic events and regional orientations of the kingdom.

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