Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made a historic visit to Baghdad Saturday, marking the highest level visit by a Saudi official to Iraq since 1990. Jubeir met for several hours with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as well as with Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
Jubeir’s visit took many observers by surprise, amid lingering tensions between the two neighbors. It comes as Iraqi government forces advance further into the mostly Sunni city of Mosul.
The announcement that Saudi Arabia would name a new ambassador to Iraq appears to mark a fresh effort to improve ties between Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated government and its large Sunni neighbor to the south.
Both sides vowed to redouble efforts to fight the Islamic State group and other forms of militant Islam. Saudi Arabia also pledged to donate $9 million to help Iraqi refugees who have fled from mostly Sunni regions of Anbar province and Mosul.
Jubeir vowed to step up cooperation with Baghdad and insisted that Saudi Arabia would remain even-handed in its relations with Iraqis of all religious sects.
He said that Riyadh will remain equidistant to Iraqis of all religious persuasions and he condemned the killings of all Iraqis by other Iraqis. He added that Saudi Arabia will work with Baghdad to combat terrorism of all stripes, including the Islamic State or al-Qaida.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Jaafari welcomed the strengthening of ties between Baghdad and Riyadh, on both the political and the economic levels, noting that each side will work to improve trade and other economic cooperation.
He also welcomed moves that will benefit both countries, including the reopening of the Jumaima border post between the neighbors and other types of economic cooperation.
Iraqi state TV reported that Jubeir and Abadi met for over two hours, but gave no details of the substance of their conversations.
Iraqi officials have attempted to improve ties with the Saudi Kingdom in recent years, starting with a visit by former Iraqi president Jalal Talabani to Riyadh in 2010 and a follow-up visit by his successor President Fouad Mahsoum in 2014.
Saudi Arabia appointed an ambassador to Baghdad last year, but withdrew him quickly following friction over remarks he made about Iran and its support for Shi’ite militia groups.