Iraqi President in Riyadh

Iraqi President in RiyadhIraqi President in Riyadh

Iraqi President Fouad Masoum was visiting Riyadh on Tuesday, Saudi state media reported, raising hopes of a tentative thaw in long-chilly relations between the Arab neighbors.

Real power in Iraq resides with the country’s Shia-led government and prime minister, but the first presidential visit to Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia since 2010 opens the door to a possible rapprochement, Reuters cited political analysts as saying.

A substantive improvement in ties between Riyadh and Baghdad could help strengthen a regional alliance against IS militants who have seized swathes of Iraq and Syria and also smooth wider tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iraq’s ally Iran.

Saudi Arabia has long accused Iraq of being too close to Iran, its main regional rival, and of encouraging sectarian discrimination, a charge Baghdad denies.

Although Iraqi officials have visited Saudi Arabia for multilateral meetings on several occasions in recent years, bilateral talks have been rare since Riyadh closed its Baghdad embassy in 1990 following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Since the appointment in August of Heidar al-Abadi as Iraq’s prime minister, however, Saudi Arabia has made cautious moves towards rapprochement, swiftly sending him a message of congratulations and hinting it may reopen its Baghdad embassy.

“The Saudis want to give Abadi more time to see what he is going to do. They gave him a good welcome when he was appointed and opened the door,” said Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi security analyst with close ties to the Saudi government.