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Iraq's Sadr In Turkey For Talks With Erdogan

Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr
ANKARA (Reuters) -- Influential Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr met Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on May 1 to discuss the political process in his country, government officials said.

Sadr is rarely seen in public and was believed to have been in Iran prior to the visit.

Ties have been strained between Ankara and Baghdad over Kurdish guerrillas based in northern Iraq from where they stage attacks into Turkey.

President Abdullah Gul was the first Turkish head of state to visit Iraqi in 33 years in March in an effort to improve relations.

"The political process is increasingly normalised in Iraq.... He is here for political consultations with the Turkish authorities on these matters," a Foreign Ministry official told Reuters.

Diplomats and analysts say Turkey, like the United States, is concerned by Shi'ite Iran's growing influence over Iraq.

An anti-American firebrand, Sadr has a huge following among Iraq's Shi'ite poor, and his allies won enough seats in the January 31 polls for Iraq's provincial councils to remain a political player. Shi'ites are the majority Muslim sect in Iraq.