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Iraq president to visit Saudi as relations thaw

RIYADH: Iraqi President Fuad Masum is to visit Saudi Arabia Tuesday for the highest-level talks between the two neighbours in years, as relations thaw in the face of the jihadist threat.

The official Saudi Press Agency gave no details of the programme for Masum’s visit in a short announcement on Monday.

There have been years of tension between Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and its Shiite-majority neighbour.

Relations plumbed new depths earlier this year when then Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki accused Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbour Qatar of backing Sunni “terror groups” in his country.

Riyadh hit back that it was the Shiite premier’s “sectarian” policies towards the Sunni Arab minority that were responsible for the Islamic State group’s capture of much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in June.

Relations began to improve after Masum’s nomination of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi in August to replace the controversial Maliki.

King Abdullah sent messages of congratulations to both men saying that he hoped the nomination would help “re-establish cohesion among Iraq’s people and preserve the unity and stability of Iraq.”

Saudi Arabia has since become a key ally in the US-led war against IS, with its warplanes taking part in the coalition air campaign against the jihadists in Syria, although not in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer, shares a border of more than 800 kilometres (500 miles) with Iraq.-AFP

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