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Saudi Arabia names ambassador to Iraq

BAGHDAD, Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabia named its first ambassador to Iraq in more than 20 years, restoring diplomatic ties between the countries, Iraq's foreign minister said Tuesday.

Hoshyar Zebari said in a Twitter post the Saudi ambassador to Jordan would serve as a "non-resident" Iraqi envoy, The New York Times reported. It remained unclear when Saudi Arabia could reopen its embassy in Baghdad, which Saudi officials have discussed for years, the Times said.

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Naming Fahad Abdul Muhsin al-Zayd as an ambassador marks the restoration of normal diplomatic relations for the first time since Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and could indicate Saudi Arabia's hopes to build a stronger presence in Iraq to counter the influence of Iran.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq have been tense since the 2003 U.S. invasion overthrew Saddam's regime, dominated by Sunnis, which was replaced by a government led by Shiites. That, in turn, led to closer ties between Iran and Iranian-backed movements inside Iraq.

And last year during pro-democracy protests in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia sent troops to support the Sunni minority that rules that country while many among Iraq's Shiite majority criticized the move and held demonstrations to show their support for the largely Shiite demonstrators in Bahrain.

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