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Saudi Arabia to Reopen Baghdad Embassy after 25-Year Hiatus

FILE - Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Jeddah, Aug. 12, 2014.

Saudi Arabia will start preparations to reopen its embassy in the Iraqi capital for the first time in 25 years, Saudi state media reported Saturday.

A thaw in the once chilly relations between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite-led Iraq could help strengthen a regional alliance against Islamic State militants who have seized territory in Iraq and Syria.

Saudi Arabia closed its Baghdad embassy in 1990 after the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. It has long accused Iraq of being too close to Shiite Iran, its main regional rival, and of encouraging sectarian discrimination against Sunnis, a charge Baghdad denies.

Citing an official foreign ministry source, the Saudi Press Agency said that besides reopening its embassy, the kingdom also planned to set up a general consulate in Irbil, capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region.

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 Islamic State. The militants staged a lightning advance across Iraq in June and are the target of U.S.-led air strikes 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," he said. "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."

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