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Saudi foreign minister makes landmark visit to Iraq

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Saudi Arabia's chief foreign affairs diplomat Adel al-Jubeir (photo) met with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad Saturday - marking the first time a Saudi foreign minister had visited the Iraqi capital since 1990.

The meeting is the latest effort to ease long-standing tensions between the two countries.

Iraq past year asked Saudi Arabia to replace its ambassador, Thamer al-Sabhan, after his comments about Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs and alleged persecution of Sunni Muslims angered local Shi'ite Muslim politicians and militia leaders.

Relations between Baghdad and Riyadh remained tense and very limited after 2003, as Saudi Arabia's arch-rival, Iran, became an increasingly powerful military and political player in Iraq where Shiite Arabs make up the largest demographic.

The Saudi foreign minister also met his Iraqi counterpart, Ibrahim Al Jaafari.

Implying the United States is brokering the thawing of relations between Riyadh and Tehran, former Iraqi finance minister Hoshyar Zebari, who was sacked a year ago, said on social media: "Today's visit to Baghdad by [the Saudi foreign minister].is an excellent move to normalise Iraq-Saudi relations".

Saudi Arabia nominally supports the fight against IS but Iraq and other partners have argued it needs to do more to help durably defeat IS and its ideology. As evidenced in recent attacks, Daesh has retained its ability to sow chaos and undermine the Iraqi government's authority even after it lost fixed positions in various regions.

"Jubeir congratulated Iraq on the victories achieved against Daesh and pledged Saudi Arabia's support to Iraq in fighting terrorism", the statement from Abadi's office said.

Jubeir said that his visit to Baghdad comes "to restore the bilateral ties between the two countries back on track", asserting that his country "stands at the same distance from all the Iraqi factions, and supports the unity and stability of Iraq", the ministry statement said.

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