The United Arab Emirates signaled its desire to strengthen ties with Iraq during weekend talks with influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as part of efforts by Sunni nations of the Middle East to halt Iran’s growing regional influence.
Sadr met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy commander of the UAE armed forces on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, according to a senior aide of the cleric.
Sadr also discussed ways of improving understanding between the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam, at a meeting on Monday with a prominent Sunni cleric in Abu Dhabi.
The UAE is among Sunni nations which feel threatened by Iran’s increased power in the region, often projected through allied Shi’ite groups in Iraq and Lebanon.
“The two sides emphasized the importance to act in true Islamic spirit and reject violence and extremist thought,” Sadr’s office in Baghdad said in a statement on his website on Monday, reporting on his meeting with Emirati cleric Ahmed al-Kubaisi.
Closer ties with Sadr, who commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and southern Iraq, would help Sunni states loosen Tehran’s grip over Iraq’s Shi’ite community and contain its influence.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar on June 5, accusing the major gas-exporting Gulf state of financing terrorism, meddling in the affairs of Arab countries and cozying up to their arch-rival Iran.