- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

BAGHDAD (AP) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived Sunday in Baghdad for the first visit to Iraq by a Palestinian leader since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The visit is significant because it marks a major step in improving ties between the Shiite-led government of Iraq and the Palestinian leadership, which had warm relations with the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi government would affirm its support for the Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state during Abbas’ talks with President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Palestinian exiles who fled to Iraq after the establishment of the state of Israel enjoyed a privileged status during Saddam’s rule _ but that privilege ended when the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam and paved the way for his Shiite opponents to take power.

About 11,000 Palestinians still live in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad’s Shiite district of Baladiyat.

Hundreds of Palestinians, overwhelmingly Sunni, were slaughtered during the sectarian violence of a few years ago in Iraq. Several thousand remain stranded at refugee camps along the Iraqi-Syrian border where they fled the sectarian massacres but al-Dabbagh asserted the situation has improved.

“The Iraqi government has dealt with and overcome this issue,” al-Dabbagh said. “It is no more a problem, and now Palestinians in Iraq are sharing a normal life with Iraqis.”

The visit comes as violence has dramatically dropped in Iraq, though Iraq’s security forces continue to be targets of insurgents.

On Sunday, two roadside bombs in western Anbar province killed one officer and wounded three other people, said Police 1st Lt. Bashar Khudaeir.

He said a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol exploded in central Fallujah, killing one officer.

That was followed by a second roadside bomb targeting a patrol in another part of the city that wounded one officer and two civilians, Khudaeir said.

Attacks in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province have dropped dramatically since tribes turned against al-Qaida.

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