Page last updated at 16:34 GMT, Monday, 11 August 2008 17:34 UK

Jordan's king in first Iraq visit

Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, left, welcomes Jordan's King Abdullah in Baghdad,
Abdullah's visit is a boost to the Iraqi government and its US backers

King Abdullah of Jordan has become the first Arab head of state to visit Iraq since the US-led invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003.

A statement by the Iraqi government said he had held talks with Iraq's prime minister and vice-president.

The previously unannounced arrival follows a planned visit last month which was cancelled after officials in Iraq revealed the king would be coming.

The BBC's Crispin Thorold in Baghdad says the trip is of great symbolism.

The visit comes after Jordan's announcement it will re-open its Baghdad embassy, bombed in 2003 in an attack that signalled the start of a rapid departure of Sunni Arab diplomats from Iraq, he says.

Jordan is ready to stand at the side of Iraq to realise the wish of the Iraqi people for security stability and prosperity
King Abdullah of Jordan

"This visit will open a new page in relations between the two countries which will help to maintain the stability and security in Iraq and all the region," Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said after the meeting.

A statement from King Abdullah said he had "renewed his support to the Iraqi government and his support for the efforts to spread security stability and reconstruction."

"Jordan is ready to stand at the side of Iraq to realise the wish of the Iraqi people for security stability and prosperity," he added.

Jordan sent its prime minister to Baghdad in September 2005, which was also a first following the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Sunni-Shia mistrust

King Abdullah agreed to visit Iraq in June, during a visit to Amman by Mr Maliki to renew a deal to sell discounted Iraqi oil to Jordan, which relies mainly on Iraqi oil.

As well as being a target of the anti-US insurgency in Iraq, Jordan - a major US ally and aid recipient - was the scene of al-Qaeda-linked suicide bombings by Iraqis itself.

The country hosts between 500,000 and 750,000 Iraqi refugees who have fled the violence in their war-torn country.

Observers say Sunni Muslim-ruled Arab states, which include Jordan, have been wary of the rise of Shia Muslim power and Iranian influence in post-Saddam Iraq.

Upgrading and improving ties with the Baghdad government has long been a US request to its Sunni allies in the region.

Only a few Arab countries to have named ambassadors to Baghdad, but none of the appointees have taken up their posts yet.

In recent months, the governments in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain have also announced the reopening of their missions to Iraq.

Jordan was an ally of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and initially supported Baghdad after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which triggered the first Gulf war.

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