Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is visiting Iraq, for the first time since the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani in January.
Zarif and his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein stressed the necessity for a stable Iraq for the “good of the region” as the two top diplomats discussed their ties and regional developments in Baghdad on Sunday.
Zarif is also expected to meet Iraq’s president, the speaker of parliament and the prime minister during the visit as regional security, bilateral relations and business investments feature on the agenda.
Zarif’s visit to Iraq comes amid tensions between the United States and Iran, which escalated following Soleimani’s killing in an air attack in the Iraqi capital.
In a joint news conference with Hussein, Zarif said a “stable and powerful” Iraq was in the interest of both the countries.
“That is why we look forward to continued constructive bilateral negotiations. The stability, security and peace in Iraq is the stability of the entire region,” he said.
“Again, we reiterate that we are keen on maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.”
Fuad Hussein said his country looked forward to continuing its “balanced relations” with all the countries in the region.
“[The relations are] based on first our national interest, then on mutual interest with our neighbours without any interfering in our domestic affairs.”
During his visit, Zarif visited a memorial to Soleimani at the site where he and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), were killed near Baghdad’s international airport.
Tehran had retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq.
While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain al-Assad killed no US soldiers, dozens were reported to have suffered brain trauma.
Zarif said the assassination of Soleimani was “a criminal act”.
“It is a loss to our country and to the entire region, and it undermines the international efforts for combating ISIL (ISIL) and terrorism in the region,” he said.
This was Zarif’s first visit to Iraq since the killing of Soleimani and formation of the new Iraqi government.
Al Jazeera’s Simona Foltyn, reporting from Baghdad, said the recent months have been turbulent for relations between Iran and Iraq.
“New Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has been stressing the importance of Iraq’s sovereignty,” she said.
“He also recently moved against armed groups present in Iraq, such as Kataib Hezbollah, which is considered close to Iran,” she said, referring to the Iraqi armed group backed by Tehran.
“This visit is aimed at recalibrating mutual relations and making sure Iran’s security, economic and political interests are represented in Iraq.”
Zarif’s visit comes a day before al-Kadhimi travels to Saudi Arabia and Iran next week in apparent attempt to balance his country’s ties with regional rivals in his first foreign trip as Iraq’s prime minister.