Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad Friday in a move meant to help strengthen a regional alliance against the Islamic State group, which has seized territory in Iraq and Syria.
Saudi Arabia had cut off diplomatic ties and closed its Baghdad embassy in 1990 after the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
Saudi Ambassador to Iraq Thamer Al Sabhan told al-Arabia TV the reopening would allow the two countries to coordinate security and military efforts against extremists.
The countries first discussed reestablishing diplomatic ties a year ago when a Saudi delegation traveled to Baghdad in January 2015 to start preparations to reopen the embassy.
Thaw in relations
The move Friday is the latest sign of a thaw in relations between Baghdad and Gulf Arab nations, some of which have viewed Shi’ite-led Iraq as too close to their main regional rival, Shi’ite Iran.
Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia has long accused Iraq of being too close to Iran and of encouraging sectarian discrimination against Sunnis, charges denied by Baghdad.
At the time, Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security analyst with close ties to the Saudi government, said the move was prompted by both the change in Iraqi leadership and the threat from IS, which is the target of U.S.-led airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria.
“The Saudis think there is a gap now. If they leave Mr. Abadi without help, he will be forced to go to the Iranians,” Alani told Reuters in January 2015. “With the change of leadership, change of circumstances, they think that it’s time to bring back Iraq … to the Arab fold and to reduce the Iranian influence.”
Several months ago, Qatar’s emir appointed Zayed al-Khayareen as Doha’s ambassador to Iraq, the first since closing its embassy 25 years ago.
Abadi’s predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, had accused both Qatar and Saudi Arabia of funding IS insurgents, allegations denied by both countries.