Sat Feb 25, 2017 03:46PM
A handout photo released by the Iraqi Prime Minister's press office on February 25, 2017 shows Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (R) meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Baghdad. (Photo by AFP)
A handout photo released by the Iraqi Prime Minister's press office on February 25, 2017 shows Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (R) meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Baghdad. (Photo by AFP)

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir has made a rare visit to Baghdad as the first by a high-ranking Saudi official since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi received Jubeir and his delegation on Saturday, a statement from Abadi’s office said.

The two sides “discussed cooperation in various fields, including the fight against the Daesh gangs,” the statement added.

It added that Jubeir “congratulated Iraq on the victories achieved against Daesh and pledged Saudi Arabia's support to Iraq in fighting terrorism."

Jubeir also met with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

A handout photo released by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry's press office on February 25, 2017 shows Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (R) meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in the capital Baghdad. (Photo by AFP)

Jaafari has been considered an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia and has issued several strongly-worded statements against the kingdom over what he called Riyadh’s "unacceptable interference” in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia is accused of nurturing extremist groups, including Daesh, with material and ideological support. The Daesh terrorist group’s hallmark line of thought, namely Wahhabism, is Saudi Arabia’s official ideology. Wahhabism is a strand of radical ideology.

Saudi plans to appoint new ambassador to Iraq

Meanwhile, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry official said that Jubeir told Iraqi officials that the kingdom planned to appoint a new ambassador to Baghdad.

In January 2016, Thamer al-Sabhan became the first Saudi Ambassador to Baghdad in a quarter of a century, after the two countries severed ties following former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

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Former Saudi Ambassador to Baghdad Thamer al-Sabhan (File photo)

In August 2016, senior Iraqi officials requested Riyadh to replace Sabhan. Pro-Riyadh news outlets had earlier alleged that fighters from Popular Mobilization Units, an Iraqi force comprising anti-terror volunteer fighters, had devised plots to murder the Saudi envoy. Back at the time, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry dismissed the reports, saying such claims were only meant to damage relations between Baghdad and Riyadh.

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Sabhan had on occasions received warnings from Iraqi officials for interference in the country’s internal affairs. In June, Abadi himself strongly advised Sabhan to remain committed to his diplomatic duties only and to avoid meddling in Iraq’s domestic affairs.

Riyadh withdrew the ambassador, but instead of naming a new ambassador, Saudi Arabia seconded Abdulaziz al-Shammari as chargé d’affaires at its diplomatic mission in the Iraqi capital, in what was regarded as a unilateral downgrading of diplomatic ties with Iraq.

In October, Iraqi Foreign Ministry said a Saudi individual had hacked its website, putting offensive, sectarian-charged content on it.

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The cyberattack came only a day after the ministry reacted harshly to earlier remarks by Jubeir, who had said in the run-up to the Mosul offensive that Baghdad should not enlist the Popular Mobilization forces in its push to liberate the northern city from Daesh.

The fighters have proven a pivotal force in extricating the country from the clutches of the terrorists, who have been ravaging it since 2014.