by Liu Wanli
BAGHDAD, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- Stepping up to end Iraq's seven- month political gridlock, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki paid a whirlwind visit to his neighboring countries aiming to rally support from Shiite allies and offer business opportunities in return for regional backing for his premiership.
Al-Maliki arrived in Turkey Thursday, the last leg of his trip which has taken him to Jordan, Syria, Iran and Egypt, as part of efforts to seek support as he struggles to secure a second term in office.
With strong support from Sunni Arab states, former prime minister Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya List narrowly beat al-Maliki's State of Law Alliance in March's parliamentary elections by two seats and it strongly opposed a new government led by al-Maliki.
By boosting business links with Arab nations, the incumbent prime minister run ahead of other candidates in the race to form Iraq's new government, analysts said.
SHIITE SUPPORT PLAYS BIGGER ROLE
Recently, leaders from Iraq's political blocs have been working to secure backing to cement the government with efforts in improving ties with neighboring countries.
On Monday, al-Maliki visited Iran and obtained Tehran's backing for his second term. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran fully supports an independent, strong and unified Iraq which will serve the Iraqi people and Islamic ideals and the progress of the region.
In a clear sign of endorsement, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Reza Raouf Sheibani said Monday the nomination of al- Maliki as a candidate for Iraqi prime minister would be " appropriate."
Furthermore, al-Maliki met with Iraq's Shiite leader Moqtada al- Sadr in the city of Qom in Iran and won the crucial support from the Iran-backed Shiite cleric.
Iran, with 89 percent of its population Shiite, is believed to have played an important role in brokering a deal between al- Maliki and al-Sadr, who has been opposed to the re-election of al- Maliki.
While meeting with Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, al-Maliki said he appreciated Iran's efforts in repairing the "brotherhood," which analysts said was obviously referring to relations between him and al-Sadr.
Despite alliance with Shiite groups, it's not easy for al- Maliki to force his rival, Turkey and Egypt-backed Iraqiya List, to make concessions, analysts said.