BAGHDAD (AP) – Bahrain’s foreign minister arrived in Iraq’s capital Saturday for a one-day visit aimed at improving bilateral relations between the countries, the latest high-level visit by a senior Arab dignitary.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa will hold discussions with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari.
It is the latest visit to Iraq by a senior Arab politician. Iraq’s mainly Sunni neighbors have sought over the last year to restore ties damaged by Saddam Hussein’s rule and the U.S.-led invasion, as the security situation in Iraq has improved.
Earlier this month, the deputy commander of the United Arab Emirates’ armed forces and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, headed a delegation to Baghdad.
Egypt’s foreign minister also came, making the first official visit by a senior Egyptian official in nearly two decades.
The improved ties followed strong U.S. pressure for Arab countries to play a bigger political role in Iraq, partly to counter Iranian influence and to promote reconciliation between Iraq’s rival Sunni and Shiite communities.
Most Arab governments sent diplomats here following Saddam’s fall in 2003 but did not cultivate high-level relations so as to avoid the appearance of endorsing the U.S. military occupation of an Arab country.
The Arabs softened their stand after an elected Iraqi government took power in 2005. But Sunni militant groups, especially al-Qaeda in Iraq, warned Arab states not to open embassies, a move the extremists feared would bolster the Iraqi government and its U.S. backers.
Three years ago, Bahrain’s top envoy in Iraq, Hassan Malallah al-Ansari, was wounded when attackers tried to abduct him on his way to work in Baghdad. Last month, the Gulf country named a new ambassador.
Diplomats from Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, the UAE and Sudan have been killed, wounded or kidnapped in attacks in Iraq.