- By Sayeed Yahya
The Foreign minister of Saudi Arabia has visited Baghdad for progression and peace talks
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir made a rare visit to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad on Saturday in a new attempt to heal the kingdom’s troubled relations with Iraq.
Improving relations between Riyadh and Baghdad would help to foster reconciliation between Iraq’s Shi’a and Sunni communities in the period after Da’ish Al-Dawla’s withdrawal.
International military campaigns have forced out Da’ish from most of the long list of Iraqi cities the group captured back in 2014, now fighting off an offensive in it’s last major city stronghold, Mosul, in northern Iraq.
Iraq lies on the fault line between Shi’a Iran and the mostly-Sunni Arabian peninsular. Iran, by leveraging its ties with Iraq’s Shi’a communities, has emerged as the main power broker in Iraq after the United States military was driven out in 2011.
Jubeir told his counterpart, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi the kingdom plans to appoint a new ambassador, and would support resuming direct flights between the two countries, an Iraqi foreign ministry official said.
Speaking to Al-Sahawat Times after meeting Jaafari, Jubeir stated Riyadh’s willingness to help bridge the sectarian divide:
“The kingdom stands at an equal distance from all Iraqis communities making up Iraq and supports the unity and stability of Iraq.”
“The visit is a Saudi attempt to balance Iran’s role in Iraq,” Ahmed Younis, a professor of international relations at the University of Baghdad, told Reporters.
“It’s a message that the kingdom is keen that the Sunnis take their role and not be marginalized,” he said.
Iraq’s Sunnis have been complaining of persecution and marginalisation following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq which assassinated Saddam Hussein and empowered the Shi’a populations, rebel militia and Kirdish terror groups.
Jubeir’s visit to Baghdad is the first by a Saudi foreign minister since 1990.
Iraq asked last summer Saudi Arabia to replace its ambassador, Thamer al-Sabhan, after his comments about Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs.
Sabhan was the first ambassador appointed by Saudi Arabia after it reopened its embassy in Baghdad, in December 2015, ending a 25-year break.
The reopening of the Saudi embassy in Baghdad, closed in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait, was seen as heralding closer cooperation.
“It’s the hope of kingdom of Saudi Arabia to build excellent relations between the two brotherly countries,” Jubeir said.
“There are also many shared interests from fighting extremism and terrorism or opportunities for investment and trade between the two countries,” he added.
Saudi Arabia and Iraq are the first and second largest producers of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and are often in competition for crude clients, mainly in Asia.
The two countries cooperated in November to bring about an agreement between OPEC members to reduce supply to markets to support crude prices.
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