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Iraq's Premier Cancels Visit To Saudi Arabia As King Salman Taken To Hospital

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi (R) hands over to new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Baghdad, Iraq, May 7, 2020

The visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to Saudi Arabia has been postponed after the hospitalization of King Salman, the Saudi foreign minister said on Monday.

"In recognition of the importance of the visit and a desire to make it succeed, our wise leadership in coordination with our brothers in Iraq has decided to postpone the visit," Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud wrote on Twitter.

Al-Kadhimi was scheduled to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Monday for a one-day visit and then travel to Iran on Tuesday and later to the United States on his first foreign travel after becoming prime minister in May.

Visiting both Saudi Arabia and Iran during one trip by Iraqi prime ministers has turned into a diplomatic practice to keep the balance between its two powerful neighbors.

It is not clear if al-Kadhimi will still go ahead with his trip to Iran and the United States.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are arch-rivals in the region, while Iraq's majority Shiites share religious identity with Iran and Arab identity with Saudi Arabia.

Iraq receives financial and military support from Washington, another important player in the region. Baghdad also tries to balance its relations with the United States and Iran, which carries significant political influence among Iraq's Shiites and controls a vast network of armed militias. This has led to anti-Iran sentiments that have manifested themselves in popular protests since October 2019.

The protests brought down the previous Iraqi government and after months of uncertainty Mustafa Al-Kadhimi became prime minister. He has exhibited more independence from Iran and a tougher stance against Iran’s armed proxies.