"The American forces are there to dominate Iraqi interests," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who met the firebrand cleric, was quoted as saying by the official news agency IRNA. "The crisis existing in Iraq can be resolved with the departure of the occupying forces," the minister said Sunday. IRNA quoted Sadr as saying: "We are happy that ties between the Iranian and the Iraqi nations are developing every day and we always support the strengthening of Iraq's relations with all neighbours, especially the Islamic republic of Iran."
Iran has been accused by both Britain and the United States of supporting Iraqi insurgents, charges the Islamic republic denies. Sadr's visit coincides with mounting international pressure on Iran over its disputed nuclear programme. Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters that Sadr was visiting Iran for talks while on the way back from the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. "We have relations with all Iraqi groups -- Shites, Sunnis and Kurds -- and the situation in Iraq requires continued talks between Iran and all groups," Asefi said.
Sadr's men clashed with US forces in 2004 and scorned elections in Iraq last January for a transitional government. But they took part in the most recent poll for a permanent parliament -- the first since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The cleric has rarely travelled abroad, and was last known to have visited neighbouring Iran in June 2003 to take part in a commemoration marking the anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death.