BAGHDAD — A senior Iraqi security official on Wednesday hailed improving security ties with neighbouring Saudi Arabia amid a tentative rapprochement between the two countries in recent weeks.
Deputy interior minister Adnan al-Assadi said Baghdad and Riyadh had already discussed working together on measures against terrorism, illegal narcotics, organised crime and cross-border smuggling, and would soon hold talks on prisoner exchanges.
The warming of ties comes after Saudi Arabia appointed a non-resident ambassador to Iraq on February 20, the Sunni kingdom’s first envoy to the Shiite-majority country since Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Assadi said in a statement published on the interior ministry’s website that he was “very optimistic that this cooperation will be the beginning of a new phase of openness between the two countries on political, economic and security issues.”
“Both sides agreed to re-launch the frozen cooperation between the two sides, which was caused by hesitation from the Saudi side on cooperating with Iraq,” the statement said.
Assadi continued: “Things have started to move again lately with Saudi Arabia’s announcement of the appointment of a non-resident ambassador to Iraq. It seems that the gate of cooperation between the two countries will be through security.”
It came after a visit to Saudi Arabia by Assadi and Iraqi National Security Adviser Falah al-Fayadh, during which they met with the kingdom’s intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz and assistant interior minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is the kingdom’s top counter-terror official.
The statement said the Iraqi officials visited Saudi Arabia after an invitation from Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, who is also the interior minister.
Assadi said Iraqi Justice Minister Hassan al-Shammari is to visit Riyadh to discuss prisoner transfers, though no detainees sentenced to death will be exchanged. A justice ministry official said the trip would take place next week, but did not give details.
According to officials from Iraq’s ministries of interior and justice, there are 387 Arab prisoners in Iraq’s jails, most of whom are from Saudi Arabia, but the officials did not give precise details.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has a long history of rocky relations with Saudi Arabia. The kingdom was widely seen as having backed his rival Iyad Allawi for the premiership after 2010 parliamentary elections.