Iraq hosts regional meeting aimed at easing tensions in Middle East region

Baghdad: Iraqi security forces fanned out across the Iraqi capital Saturday ahead of a regional conference aimed at easing tensions in the Middle East and emphasising the Arab country's new role as mediator.

Among the invitees are archenemies Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose rivalry has often played out in Iraq and other countries, including Yemen and Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia has said it would be represented by its foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan. It was not clear what kind of representation Iran would have at the conference.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Jordan's King Abdullah as well as representatives from Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were expected to participate.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is co-organising the meeting, arrived in Baghdad early Saturday. Participants were expected to discuss a regional water crisis, the war in Yemen and a severe economic and political crisis in Lebanon that has brought the country to the point of collapse.

Iraqi special forces deployed in Baghdad, particularly around the Green Zone, which houses foreign embassies and is the seat of the Iraqi government.

Sunday's meeting is a chance for Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to showcase his recent efforts to portray Iraq as a neutral mediator in the region's crises and re-engage with the world after decades of conflict.

Earlier this year, the country hosted several rounds of direct talks between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, with mid-level officials discussing issues related to Yemen and Lebanon, according to Iraqi officials. The talks signaled a possible de-escalation following years of animosity that often spilled into neighbouring countries and at least one still-raging war.

The talks, while significant, fell short of a breakthrough in relations given the deep strains, historic rivalry and continued sporadic attacks on Saudi oil targets by Iran-backed Houthis from Yemen.

There has been talk, however, of the potential for Saudi Arabia to reopen its embassy in Tehran, which was ransacked and shuttered following outrage over the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric

in early 2016.

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