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Kuwait names Iraq envoy, first since ’90

Times Staff Writer

Kuwait on Thursday named its first ambassador to Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded the oil-rich country in 1990 and set off the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The announcement came as Iraq’s Shiite Muslim-led government is reaching out to its Sunni Arab neighbors in a bid to ease tensions and secure investment to rebuild the nation.

U.S. officials also have been encouraging Arab countries to normalize relations with Iraq to offset the influence of neighboring Iran, where many of Iraq’s current leaders sought sanctuary under Hussein.

Iraq’s Arab neighbors are suspicious of Baghdad’s close ties with Tehran and have been worried about the level of violence here. Arab nations have maintained economic links with Iraq, but none has had a full embassy in this country since 2005, when an envoy sent by Egypt with the intention of moving toward full diplomatic relations was kidnapped and killed.

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The region’s confidence in Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has increased since he launched a series of crackdowns in spring against fellow Shiites accused of fighting U.S. and Iraqi government forces with help from Iran. Tehran denies U.S. and Iraqi allegations that it arms, trains and directs the militants.

A nationwide drop in violence since last year also has sparked renewed interest in Iraq as a regional trade and investment partner.

Kuwait is the third Arab country to name an ambassador to Iraq, after Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain also has indicated that it will send an envoy.

Kuwait will be represented by Ali Momen, a former military chief of staff, said the emirate’s official KUNA news agency. His appointment will be confirmed in a decree by the emir, it said.

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In another sign of Iraq’s expanding ties, Maliki received a visit from Saad Hariri, the Sunni leader of Lebanon’s parliamentary majority and son of the country’s slain former prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

The younger Hariri, who heads a multibillion-dollar business empire, praised the Iraqi government for improving security and said he would encourage Lebanese and other Arab companies to invest in the country.

At a news conference broadcast on Iraqi television, Hariri also emphasized the right of both countries to stability, security and “noninterference in their affairs.”

The U.S. military has accused Hezbollah, a Shiite Lebanese opposition group backed by Iran, of helping to train Iraqi militants.

Hariri’s visit follows a trip last week by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the first Turkish leader to visit Iraq in 18 years.

Maliki will continue his outreach efforts with a five-day trip to Germany and Italy beginning Monday, government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said in a statement. Maliki plans to hold talks with government leaders and representatives of companies interested in doing business with Iraq. He is also expected to meet Pope Benedict XVI.

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alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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