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Iraq hosts regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia at conference

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq hosted senior parliamentary officials from arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran on Saturday as Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi sought to bolster his country’s nascent role as a mediator in the region.

Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi attends the opening of the Saudi-Iraqi Business Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 18, 2019. Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERS

Delegations including the heads of parliament from Turkey, Kuwait, Syria and Jordan also attended the one-day conference in the Iraqi capital to discuss regional security, diplomacy and economic issues.

Abdul Mahdi recently returned from visits to Iran and Saudi Arabia, both oil-super-powers that have long been vying for dominance in the Middle East. It is unusual for Saudi and Iranian officials to attend the same events.

The Iraqi premier has said Iraq will maintain strong ties with Iran, but also with Washington and regional neighbors, many of which, like Saudi Arabia, consider Tehran a foe.

That message was echoed on Saturday by parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halboosi, who chaired the gathering in Baghdad.

“What binds us to our neighbors is our common geographical destiny and common interests,” he said in a statement.

The visiting officials pledged support for reconstruction and development efforts in Iraq and for the country’s continued stability following its victory over Islamic State, after three years of war, the statement said.

Abdul Mahdi met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to Riyadh, his first official trip to the kingdom since taking office six months ago.

Iraq and Saudi Arabia have been at loggerheads since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, but they have recently undertaken a diplomatic push to improve ties.

Abdul Mahdi’s visit to Riyadh came 10 days after he visited Iran. During his trip to Tehran, he met President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Many of Iraq’s leaders, from its Shi’ite majority, have close ties with Iran, the main Shi’ite power in the Middle East.

Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Raya Jalabi; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Helen Popper