NAJAF (Dispatches) -- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani here on Wednesay held talks with Iraq’s top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on the final day of his landmark visit to the neighboring Arab state.
Rouhani sat down with Ayatollah Sistani at his residence after visiting the shrine of Imam Ali (AS) – the first Imam of Shia Muslims.
During the meeting, the Iranian president briefed Ayatollah Sistani on his meetings with Iraqi officials as well as agreements about further promotion of ties.
Sistani welcomed "any steps to strengthen Iraq's relations with its neighbors ... based on respect for the sovereignty of the countries and no interference in domestic affairs," a statement from his office said.
He also hailed the great sacrifices made by the Iraqis in the fight against Daesh and praised the role of Iraq’s friends in defeating the terrorist group.
"The most important challenges facing Iraq are fighting corruption, improving services and keeping weapons in the hands of the state and its security services," the statement added.
Rouhani is the first Iranian president ever to have met with Ayatollah Sistani.
Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif and Ambassador to Baghdad Iraj Masjedi were also present at the meeting.
Grand Ayatollah Sistani is known as the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shia Muslims and one of the most senior clerics in Shia Islam. His fatwas have significantly contributed to shaping Iraq’s political structure.
In June 2014 – when the Daesh group unleashed its campaign of terror and destruction in Iraq –Ayatollah Sistani called on his followers to rush to the national army’s help in the fight against the terrorist outfit.
The fatwa helped bring together Shia fighters, Sunni tribesmen as well as Christian and Izadi volunteers under the umbrella of Hashd al-Sha’abi to reverse Daesh’s gains and ultimately end the group’s territorial rule in Iraq in late 2017.
Later on Wednesday, the Iranian president was expected to meet with other senior officials and clerics in Najaf.
Rouhani visited the shrines of Imam Hussein (AS), the third Shia Imam, and his half-brother Abbas ibn Ali, in the holy city of Karbala on Tuesday.
Heading a high-ranking delegation, Rouhani began his official Iraq visit on Monday, which featured several meetings and the signing of memorandums of understanding for the expansion of bilateral ties in various fields.
In a joint statement, the two neighboring states hailed Rouhani's Iraq visit as a "turning point” in efforts to strengthen "strategic” cooperation based on non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.