ISTANBUL (AFP) — Iraq's Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday met with some 70 co-religionists in Istanbul, including members of the Iraqi parliament, Anatolia news agency quoted an aide as saying.
Sadr, who had not been seen in public for nearly two years before he arrived in Turkey on Friday, discussed "ways of serving the Iraqi nation" with the other Iraqi Shiites at an Istanbul hotel, Seyid Hashim al-Meyali told reporters.
An AFP photographer at the hotel said Sadr was spotted briefly emerging from the meeting but made no statement.
On Friday the anti-US cleric had held face-to-face talks in Ankara with Turkey's top two leaders, according to Anatolia.
He met Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan first for talks on "security in Iraq and the promotion of links between the parties," according to a Turkish diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.
He was then entertained by President Abdullah Gul at the president's residence, the agency added, with the Turkish foreign ministry's special Iraq envoy, Murat Ozcelik, also in attendance.
Anatolia quoted Sadr's spokesman Salah al-Ubeydi as saying after Friday's talks, "We have laid down our arms. We are certainly not going to use them against Iraqi soldiers, but the rebellion will go on."
He added, "There is an economic, political and cultural rebellion against the foreign forces occupying our country, but it will be waged without weapons."
Ubeydi said Sadr did not envisage for the moment founding a political party.
Senior Sadr aide Haidar al-Turfi had earlier told AFP the cleric was "going from Iran to Turkey to meet a delegation from (the Iraqi shrine city of) Najaf and to hold discussions with the Turkish side about the situation in Iraq and its future."
Turfi was the first senior official from Sadr's movement to say directly that Sadr has been in Iran.
His followers had always said he was in hiding in Iraq, while the US military long said he was living in Iran.
Asked Saturday where was residing, Ubeydi said, "Perhaps in Iraq, perhaps in Iran."
Sadr was travelling with several senior figures from his movement, after an earlier delegation went to Ankara six months ago to lay the groundwork for the trip, Turfi added.
Sadr, said to be aged in his 30s, gained wide popularity among Shiites in Iraq in the months after the US-led invasion of 2003 and in 2004 his Mahdi Army militia battled US troops in two bloody revolts.
But he disappeared after a public appearance at an Iraqi mosque in June 2007 and has since issued statements through senior aides and spokesmen.
In August 2008, he suspended the activities of his Mahdi Army, which once numbered in the tens of thousands, following major US and Iraqi assaults on its strongholds in Baghdad and southern Iraq in the spring of that year.
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