Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir [L] and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi [R] met in Baghdad in February. Photo: Iraqi PM media office.
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is to visit Saudi Arabia next week as part of a tour of neighbouring countries. Riyadh confirmed he will visit the Saudi capital on Monday as the two sides have taken practical steps to mend ties.
The visit also comes as Riyadh and a number of Arab nations have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and put in place a partial blockade against Doha. Abadi has said he is opposed to the isolation of Qatar, but Iraq’s vice president has accused Doha of planning to divide Iraq on sectarian lines.
Abadi’s spokesperson, Saad al-Hadithi, confirmed to Rudaw the prime minister will visit Riyadh.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir revealed on Friday in London that Abadi will visit his country on Monday. He also reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s support for the fight against ISIS and Iraq’s "unity."
Abadi said last Tuesday that he initially wanted to make a tour of the Gulf countries, but that it has for now been confined to Iraq's neighbors.
Asked about the Qatar crisis with Riyadh ahead of his visit, Abadi said that he opposes any sort of blockade against any country. He said his objection comes from the fact that Iraq suffered years of economic blockade in the 1990s that affected the lives of millions of Iraqi people when the international community put Iraq under embargo.
Saudi Arabia is leading Gulf nations in cutting diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism, a charge Doha has denied.
"Regimes are not affected by the blockade; the blockade hurts people," Abadi said as he gave the example of the family of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein who were living in luxury despite the miserable conditions of his own people as the result of the West-imposed blockade.
Abadi also said that he seeks information from both Riyadh and Doha regarding the claims and counterclaims they make against each other.
Iraq’s Vice President Iyad Allawi voiced a different opinion in a news conference in Cairo on Saturday. He expressed support for the isolation of Qatar and accused Doha of trying to fragment Iraq on sectarian lines.
“In Iraq, Qatar adopted a project similar to that of Iran; to split Iraq into a Sunni region in exchange for a Shiite region,” Reuters reported Allawi saying. “Unfortunately, some Arab states were silent when it came to Qatar.”
He said it was time to be honest with Qatar in order resolve issues. “After that confrontation, comes reconciliation.”
Abadi’s visit to Saudi Arabia comes amid thawing relations between the two countries. He said he received an invitation more than a year ago from Riyadh, but had insisted that the Saudis take a number of steps to normalise relations between them, including a visit by a Saudi high official to Baghdad.
Saudi’s Foreign Minister Jubeir visited Iraq in February, the first time a high ranking Saudi official visited Iraq since the 1990s when the two countries severed diplomatic ties.
Jubeir promised then to appoint a new ambassador to Baghdad and resume direct flights between the two countries.
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's former and longest serving foreign minister after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, said at the time that the Americans played a role in bringing the two countries together again.
Saudi Arabia suspended diplomatic ties with Iraq in 1990 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Twenty-five years later the Saudi Embassy reopened in Baghdad at the end of 2015.
About six months later though, relations experienced yet another low. The Iraqi government asked Saudi Arabia to stop “interfering” in its internal affairs in a strong statement a day after the Saudi foreign minister had said that the Shiite militia group known as Hashd al-Shaabi must be disbanded.
Thamer al-Sabhan, Saudi Arabia’s first appointed Ambassador since the gulf war, sparked outrage in Iraq two years ago when he claimed that “Iranian terrorist personalities” were involved in the battle for Fallujah against ISIS, trying to punish the Sunni Arabs.
Iraqi Shiite officials reacted by calling on the government to revoke the Saudi ambassador’s credentials.
The Iraqi foreign ministry said that Saudi Arabia was trying to address its own regional conflict with other countries by interfering in Iraq’s domestic affairs, in reference to the kingdom’s regional rivalry with Iran.