Radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr says U.S. trying to distance Syria, Iraq

Radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Monday told Syria's president and foreign minister that he would defend Syria and said "mutual enemies" were trying to create a rift between Damascus and Baghdad.

Al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia battled American forces in 2004 and early 2005, met Monday with President Bashar Assad and Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, on the second day of his three-day visit.

The talks included a discussion of the situation in Syria and Iraq and "how to overcome U.S. pressure" against the two countries, al-Sadr told reporters after meeting al-Sharaa.

Speaking of Iraqi-Syrian relations, al-Sadr said: "Our relations are good but our mutual enemies _ Israel, the United States and Britain _ are trying to create a rift between the two countries, and God willing the Syrian and Iraqi peoples will not believe them."

He proclaimed his support of Middle Eastern nations who were facing U.S. pressure.

"I will be one of the defenders of Syria and Iran, and all Islamic states," he said.

Al-Sadr said he wants to be a "catalyst among all Iraqi parties and all who have an interest in building Iraq and the Middle East."

Syria's official news agency said the talks with Assad focused on the outcome of recent Iraqi legislative elections and efforts to form a new government in Baghdad.

Assad called on Iraqis to "close national ranks in order to save Iraq and liberate the country from occupation," SANA said, reports AP.


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