Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir held talks in Baghdad with Iraq's leadership Saturday, the first such visit by a chief diplomat from the kingdom since 2003.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi received Jubeir and his accompanying delegation, a statement from his office said, a key step in efforts to normalise frosty ties.

Both sides “discussed cooperation in various fields, including the fight against the Daesh gangs,” it said, referring to the militant Islamic State (IS) group Iraqi forces are currently battling in the northern city of Mosul.

The Saudi minister also met his counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who said in a statement the visit was “the first by a Saudi foreign minister since 2003.”

“This visit is to reestablish relations in a more stable way than previously,” a senior government official said told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“It's the first visit of its kind.”

Abadi, who has been at the helm since 2014, has supported efforts to improve strained ties but the road to normalisation has been rocky.

Thamer al-Sabhan, whose credentials were received in January 2016, became the first Saudi ambassador to Iraq in a quarter century, after relations were cut following ex-president Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

He left the same year after Baghdad demanded he be removed following remarks he made to the press about an alleged plot to assassinate him and criticism he voiced of the Hashed al-Shaabi.

Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation) forces, which have played a key role in the fight against the IS group, are a paramilitary umbrella dominated by Shia militia and seen by Riyadh as a proxy for arch-rival Iran.

Jaafari was one of the most vocal critics of Saudi Arabia at the time and issued several strongly-worded statements against the kingdom and Jubeir himself.

He told him directly on the sidelines of a global conference on the anti-IS war last year and in a statement expressing Iraq's “annoyance” over what he called “unacceptable interference.”