Sadr: PM Al Kadhimi's visit to Saudi Arabia will bring Iraq 'out of isolation'

Baghdad has been working to restore regional ties since the US-led invasion of 2003

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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi’s trip to Saudi Arabia will allow the country to restore ties with its Arab counterparts, influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr said on Thursday.

After former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia, along with many countries in the region and the wider world, severed ties with Iraq.

Baghdad has been working to restore regional ties since the US-led invasion of 2003.

“I’m looking at my brother Al Kadhimi's visit to Saudi Arabia with eyes of hope,” Mr Al Sadr said on Twitter.

Mr Al Sadr commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and southern cities and was once the leader of a powerful militia who fought against American forces stationed in Iraq.

Iraq lies on the fault line between the Shiite Muslim power Iran and the Sunni-ruled countries that are Tehran's regional rivals, among them Saudi Arabia.

"It is a door that takes Iraq out of isolation from its historical Arab environment, hoping that it will be a visit of friendship and partnership in various fields and an end to conflicts and crises," he said.

Mr Al Sadr made a rare visit to Saudi Arabia in 2017, where he met Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials.

It was seen by experts and officials as a significant development for regional stability and countering Iran’s expansionism in the region.

Since 2003, successive US administrations have pushed for more Saudi engagement with the new Iraqi government, which Baghdad embraced by maintaining good ties with Riyadh and Tehran.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq have improved since Riyadh reopened its embassy in Baghdad in late 2015.

The kingdom has taken a more proactive role in regional policy, building stronger ties with Iraqi leaders has become a priority to limit Iran’s influence in the country, where it has ties to Shiite groups that have dominated Iraqi politics since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Mr Al Sadr rose to prominence as a firebrand who led militias against US troops in Iraq who were seen as backed by Iran, but his ties to Tehran have been ambiguous.

Mr Al Kadhimi’s first trip abroad as leader last year was to Iran, shortly after he visited the US.

He was scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia in his first foreign trip as prime minister last July, but the visit was cancelled at the last minute when King Salman had an operation to remove a gall bladder.

The Iraqi leader began his visit to the kingdom on Wednesday where he was received at Riyadh's international airport by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Iraq and Saudi Arabia agreed to set up a $3bn fund to boost the private sector in Iraq.