BAGHDAD — Anti-American Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took a rare public step into the political arena yesterday, meeting in neighboring Syria with the man directly challenging Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq for his office.
The talks between Sadr, who is nominally allied with Maliki, and former premier Ayad Allawi, who heads the Iraqiya coalition heavily backed by Sunnis, appeared to be as much about showing Maliki that Sadr is keeping his options open as it was about any firm political agreement between the two men in the offing.
Sadr rarely travels outside of his home base in Iran, where he lives in self-imposed exile.
His followers won 39 seats in the 325-seat Parliament, giving him considerable sway over who will become the next prime minister.
After the election, Sadr joined a coalition with Maliki’s list, but the deep-rooted hatred many in the Sadrist camp feel toward the prime minister — who jailed thousands of their supporters — has stalled any further development of their alliance.
Insurgent attacks killed nine people across Iraq yesterday.
In the day’s worst violence, a car bomb exploded near a restaurant and coffee shop in Baqubah, a onetime insurgent stronghold about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Six people were killed and 26 were wounded, police and hospital officials said.
Hours earlier, in the northern city of Mosul, a car bomb killed a British security contractor, the British Embassy said.
The contractor’s identity was not released, pending notification of his next of kin.