Iraqi minister trying to improve relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia: report

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iraq’s foreign minister said he had carried messages between Iran and Saudi Arabia in a continuing attempt to curb a feud involving its two neighbors, Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB reported on Saturday.

Relations between the two regional rivals worsened after hundreds of people, many of them Iranians, died in a crush at the 2015 Muslim haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Iran blamed the disaster on organizers’ incompetence, and boycotted last year’s haj.

Ties worsened further when Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia executed a Shi’ite cleric a year ago, angry Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and Riyadh severed diplomatic relations.

“The (mediation) steps have continued since last year, and I have exchanged messages between the two countries ... because any crisis in Iranian-Saudi relations affects Iraq as well, and a rapprochement between them would also benefit Iraq,” Iraq’s Ibrahim al-Jaafari was quoted by IRIB’s website as saying.

“I have carried oral messages between officials of the two countries in the past few months and we will try to bring their positions closer,” Jaafari said.

An Iranian official confirmed on Monday that Saudi Arabia had invited Tehran to discuss arrangements for the annual haj.

Iraq sent Jaafari to Tehran a year ago with an offer to mediate in the feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran, reflecting Baghdad’s fears that new sectarian conflict could affect its military campaign against Islamic State.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Andrew Bolton