BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's Foreign Ministry said the government on Sunday formally requested that the Saudi ambassador in Baghdad be replaced after he claimed that Iranian-backed Shiite militias are plotting to assassinate him.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal told The Associated Press that the government sent a formal request to Saudi Arabia to replace the kingdom's ambassador in Baghdad, Thamer al-Sabhan. Jamal said al-Sabhan's reported comments are untrue and harm relations between the two countries. He said the allegations are considered interference in Iraq's internal affairs and that al-Sabhan has not provided the ministry with any proof or evidence of these claims.
Shiite-led Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia are regional rivals and broke off diplomatic ties in January after several years of frayed relations. In 2011, U.S. authorities said they had disrupted an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington at the time.
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.
Al-Sabhan was also quoted by the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel saying "sectarian radical groups" are behind the threats. The channel, quoting unnamed sources, alleged that Iranian-backed senior figures in Iraq's Popular Mobilization Committee are among those behind the assassination plots and that they had given the Iraqi Foreign Ministry a deadline to expel al-Sabhan.
In the Saudi-owned Ashraq al-Awsat newspaper, an unnamed Iraqi official was quoted as saying militias were planning to attack the ambassador's armored cars with rocket-propelled grenades.
In an interview aired on Iraqi channel Wesal TV, Aws al-Khafaji, who heads the Iraqi militia group Abu al-Fadhl al-Abbas, said many factions in Iraq want to target al-Sabhan.
"If al-Sabhan was killed in Iraq, any factions involved would admit it, especially because he is wanted ... We clearly stated that we do not want al-Sabhan in Iraq." he said, before adding that if he were assassinated, "it will be an honor and will be proudly admitted."
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.