Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 29 October 2020

Iraq requests new Saudi envoy after assassination remarks

Saudi ambassador Thamer Al Sabhan has in recent days repeatedly spoken of a 'terrorist plot' to assassinate him.

BAGHDAD // Iraq asked Saudi Arabia to replace its ambassador in Baghdad on Sunday following his comments about Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs and the alleged persecution of Sunni Muslims.

In recent days, Thamer Al Sabhan – the first Saudi ambassador appointed to Iraq since Riyadh reopened its embassy in Baghdad after shutting it down in 1990 – has repeatedly spoken of a “terrorist plot” to assassinate him.

It came after a Shiite militia leader, Aws Al Khafaji, said in an interview with a local Iraqi channel that killing the envoy would be an “honour”.

The Iraqi foreign ministry denied on Monday that a plot to kill the envoy had been uncovered.

“The presence of Sabhan is an obstacle to the development of relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia,” Iraqi foreign ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal told Al Aahd, a TV channel that belongs to Iranian-backed Shiite militia Asaib Ahl Al Haq.

He tweeted that the ministry was “asking its Saudi counterpart to replace the ambassador of the Saudi Arabian kingdom in Baghdad”.

The request by Baghdad’s Shiite-led government on Sunday underscores the depth of enmity between Sunni and Shiite regional powers as sectarian conflicts rage in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

Regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic ties in January after several years of frayed relations. In 2011, US authorities said they had disrupted an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington at the time.

Mr Al Sabhan was quoted as telling the Saudi-owned Al Hayat newspaper that Iraqi intelligence provided him with information about the assassination plans. He said this was happening as Iran tries to block reform efforts in Iraq and other Arab countries.

Mr Al Sabhan’s appointment in December was seen as heralding closer cooperation in the fight against ISIL militants who control territory in Iraq and Syria and have claimed bombings in Saudi Arabia.

But Iraqi Shiite politicians and militias have made persistent calls to expel Mr Al Sabhan, who has been calling on the Iraqi government to exclude Shiite paramilitary groups from its military campaign against ISIL in order to avoid abuses against Sunnis in Iraq.

Mr Al Sabhan, responding to messages expressing solidarity with him after the Iraqi announcement, tweeted: “I am a servant of this [Saudi] leadership which is seeking to assist the truth and the well being of Muslims, may God preserve it.”* Reuters and Associated Press

Updated: August 28, 2016 04:00 AM

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