updated 7/17/2008 8:59:21 AM ET 2008-07-17T12:59:21

Kuwait on Thursday named its first ambassador to Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War, in a major step toward healing the two countries' painful past and boosting regional ties with Baghdad's post-war government.

The announcement signaled success for Washington's efforts to get Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbors to overcome security fears and mistrust of the Shiite-led regime in Baghdad.

Kuwait's official news agency quoted the country's foreign minister Thursday as saying retired Lt. Gen. Ali al-Momen, a former military chief of staff, will take the post. His appointment will be issued in a decree by the emir, it said.

Kuwait closed its embassy in Iraq in 1990, after Saddam Hussein invaded his tiny, oil-rich neighbor. The attack spurred the 1991 U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam's forces.

Years of no relations
The two neighbors had no relations until more than a dozen years later, when another American invasion toppled Saddam. They resumed ties after 2003, and an Iraqi Embassy reopened in Kuwait, led by a charge d'affaires.

Kuwait held back from reopening its embassy in Baghdad, however, citing security concerns. Diplomats from Bahrain, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries have all been either killed, wounded or kidnapped in Iraq since 2003.

Al-Qaida in Iraq had warned Arab states not to open embassies in Baghdad because of the Iraqi government's collaboration with U.S. military forces.

But Iraqi and U.S. officials say violence has declined by 70 percent over the past year, and there have been no attacks on diplomatic missions in years.

A week ago, Kuwait said security had improved enough for it to finally name an ambassador.

Kuwait joins the United Arab Emirates and Jordan in opening up diplomatically to Baghdad, a step the U.S. has been prodding them to take. Bahrain has also said it is in the process of choosing an ambassador.

Since Saddam's ouster, al-Momen has headed a Kuwaiti humanitarian office in charge of coordinating aid to Iraq.

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