Iraq has asked Saudi Arabia to recall their envoy to Baghdad, citing statements that "overstepped the boundaries of diplomacy." The ambassador previously criticized Shiite militias and spoke of a terror plot to kill him.
The presence of envoy Thamer al-Sabhan is an "obstacle to the development of relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia," Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Jamal told al-Aahd television, a channel that belongs to Iranian-backed Shiite militia Asaib ahl al-Haq, on Sunday.
The Sunni kingdom appointed Sabhan to Iraq in December, following a 25-year break in diplomatic relations over the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Since his appointment, however, Sabhan has angered his hosts by accusing Shiite militias of abusing Sunnis and urging Baghdad to exclude Shiite troops from fighting the so-called "Islamic State" (IS).
The two religious groups rule Iraq together under a complicated power-sharing deal.
In a Sunday statement, Iraqi spokesman Jamal said that the foreign ministry had sent an official request to Riyadh for a new envoy.
"Several statements and opinions voiced in the media overstepped the boundaries of diplomatic protocol and of an ambassador's duties," he said.
Not a 'personal' issue
During recent days, Sabhan repeatedly referenced a "terrorist plot" to assassinate him after Shiite commander Aws al-Khafaji said that killing the envoy would be an "honor."
Jamal dismissed the claim as unsubstantiated and "aimed at undermining Iraq's image and questioning its ability to protect diplomatic delegations." According to him, Baghdad had repeatedly urged Sabhan to refrain from public comments on Iraqi affairs.
Responding to the news on Sunday, the Saudi ambassador said his stay in Iraq was up to the Saudi Foreign Ministry.
"We have a very amicable relationship with Iraqi politicians that the media does not capture," the diplomat told Al-Arabiyah television which is owned by Saudi Arabia.
"This is not a personal issue," he added.
"Saudi Arabia's policies in Iraq will not change," Sabhan told the TV station.