BAGHDAD – Iraq’s drive to forge ties with Sunni-led Arab neighbors, who it says have shunned its Shiite Muslim leadership, got a boost Monday when Jordan’s King Abdullah II became the first leader of an Arab nation to visit since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
The visit is the latest in a series of moves by Arab states that Iraqi and U.S. officials say could improve security and counter the influence of Iran, Iraq’s Shiite-led neighbor and a player here in economic, diplomatic and security matters.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called Abdullah’s visit a “bold step” and said he hoped other Arab nations follow suit.
“The visit was short, however with a great political significance. It was a historic visit in my opinion,” Zebari told Iraqi television. Zebari said Abdullah’s arrival showed that Arab nations were recognizing that Iraq is “starting to rise again.”
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Mirembe Nantongo said Abdullah’s visit is “a positive sign reflecting improving conditions in Iraq.” She said the U.S. hoped it would spur other Arab and world leaders to visit Iraq, send ambassadors here and step up cooperation with the country.
Jordan, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates are the only Sunni Arab states to name ambassadors to Iraq since the ouster of Saddam, whose Sunni dictatorship repressed Iraq’s Shiite majority. Kuwait and the UAE named their ambassadors only in the last two months.