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World News

Syria sends first ambassador to Iraq in decades

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Syria has sent its first ambassador to Baghdad in decades, the Iraqi government said on Monday, the latest move from a fellow Arab country to strengthen diplomatic ties with Iraq.

Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari received newly appointed Syrian Ambassador Nawaf Aboud al-Sheikh Faris Monday afternoon, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Zebari “welcomed ambassador Faris and confirmed Iraq’s desire to develop and enhance bilateral relations, and to move to a new stage of cooperation,” the statement said.

Syria opened an embassy in Baghdad last year, but the arrival of its envoy marks a significant step for the two nations, which have had strained ties since rival factions of the Ba’ath party took power in both countries in the 1960s.

Syria has not had an embassy in Iraq since around the time Saddam Hussein became president in 1979.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraq’s U.S.-backed government has accused Syria of not doing enough to stem the flow of foreign fighters entering Iraq across the two countries’ porous 600-km (380-mile) border.

Shi’ite-led Iraq has for years urged its Arab neighbours, mostly governed by Sunnis, to re-establish full diplomatic ties. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad comes from the minority Alawite sect.

Many diplomats have stayed away from Iraq in fear of the sectarian and indiscriminate bloodshed that has plagued Iraq since 2003. But violence has dropped dramatically, and some countries are moving to restore their ties.

Several Arab leaders have visited Iraq since August. Last month, the United Arab Emirates ambassador took up his post in Baghdad, becoming the first Arab ambassador in Baghdad since Egypt’s envoy was kidnapped and killed in 2005.

Reporting by Waleed Ibrahim; writing by Missy Ryan; Editing by Dominic Evans

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