An Iraqi cleric who led bloody rebellions against US troops but stayed out of public view in the last two years has made an unusually visible appearance in Turkey, which is raising its own profile as a mediator in the region.
Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met about 70 fellow Iraqi Shi'ites in Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city, on Saturday in what representatives described as a discussion of ways to contribute to Iraq's future. General elections are expected toward the end of this year, and Iraq's 275-member parliament has about 30 al-Sadr loyalists.
Although al-Sadr shunned the media at Saturday's event at a hotel, his participation as well as a photograph of him seated with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting a day earlier in Ankara were a departure from his customary reclusiveness.
Al-Sadr has made announcements on his Web site and issued statements for Friday prayers usually relayed via aides. But he was last seen in the media when he gave a television interview with Al-Jazeera on March 29, 2008. The last time he appeared in person in public was May 25, 2007, when he delivered a sermon in the Iraqi Shi'ite holy city of Kufa.