BAGHDAD - The United Arab Emirates announced yesterday that it would name an ambassador to Baghdad in the coming days, the first Arab country to restore full diplomatic ties to Iraq since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.
The announcement, made in Baghdad by the United Arab Emirates' foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, follows strong U.S. pressure for Arab countries to play a bigger political role to counter Iranian influence and promote reconciliation between Iraq's rival Sunni and Shiite communities.
Many of the Mideast's Sunni-led governments have been wary of establishing a full diplomatic presence in Baghdad because of security fears and mistrust of the Shiite-led government's ties to Iran, which has a fully accredited ambassador in Baghdad.
"We will hold talks to name the ambassador in the coming few days," Nahyan said. "We also hope that as soon as possible - and I am talking here about a few weeks - we will see an active Emirates embassy in Baghdad."
U.S. and Iraqi officials praised the United Arab Emirates' decision and hoped others would follow suit.
"This reflects, I think, an appreciation on the part of the Arabs that things are different in Iraq, both in security terms and in political terms," the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, told reporters in Washington.
Most Arab governments sent diplomats to Iraq following Hussein's fall but refused to establish high-level relations, to avoid the appearance that they endorsed foreign military occupation of an Arab country.
The Arabs softened their stand after an elected Iraqi government took power in 2005. But Sunni militant groups, especially al-Qaeda in Iraq, warned Arab states not to open embassies, a move the extremists feared would bolster the Iraqi government and its U.S. backers.
Despite the threat, Egypt dispatched a high-ranking diplomat to head its mission
But the envoy was kidnapped and slain in July 2005. Diplomats from Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan were either killed, wounded or kidnapped in a series of attacks.
With recent improvements in security, however, the United States has renewed pressure on the Arabs to play a greater diplomatic, political and economic role in Iraq.