Iraqi PM to Head to Saudi Arabia, Iran for New Dialogue

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's caretaker prime minister is set to fly to Saudi Arabia, followed by Iran, carrying a new initiative aimed at renewing talks between the two regional arch foes, an official said Saturday.

The official said Mustafa al-Kadhimi was scheduled to travel to Riyadh later in the day for meetings with Saudi officials. He will then travel to Tehran on Sunday.

Al-Kadhimi's visit seeks to open new avenues that would reactivate Baghdad-mediated dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran, according to the official, who is privy to the Iran-Saudi dialogue track. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge the information to the press.

The talks aimed at defusing yearslong tensions between the regional foes began quietly in Iraq's capital in 2021 as Saudi Arabia sought a way to end its disastrous war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The conflict has spawned one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters and brought bombs from rebel drones and missiles raining down on Saudi airports and oil facilities.

A fifth and last round of talks was held in Baghdad in April before they were suspended again amid soaring Middle East tensions.

Iran, the largest Shiite Muslim country in the world, and Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Angry Iranians protesting the execution stormed two Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran, fueling years of animosity between the nations.

Iraq borders both Iran and Saudi Arabia and is often caught in the middle of the two nations' proxy wars.

Al-Kadhimi has stressed he wants balanced relations with the two neighbors. Improving relations with Saudi Arabia was a key policy of his administration when he took office in May 2020.