Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Sunday that Iran must stop meddling in Iraq and that the presence of Iranian military units there is ‘unacceptable’.
His comments come as thousands of Iraqi Shiite militiamen, soldiers and police, backed by Iran, surround the Sunni city of Fallujah ahead of an operation to retake it from the Islamic State group.
Iran says its military advisers in Iraq are there at Baghdad’s request to help Iraqi forces fight militants. It has repeatedly rejected Saudi criticisms of its role in Iraq, instead accusing its regional rival of supporting extremism.
Al-Jubeir, speaking in a joint press conference with British Foreign Minister Phillip Hammond in Saudi Arabia Sunday, said Iran had sown ”sedition and division in Iraq” through its policies, which he said had provoked sectarianism among Sunnis and Shiites there.
Hammond had earlier held meetings with Saudi King Salman and senior princes in the Red Sea city of Jiddah to discuss the wars in Syria and Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and Iran back opposing sides of the conflicts, and the ongoing turmoil in Libya. He told reporters during the press conference that his country is committed to the security and stability of Gulf Arab countries.
Saudi Arabia and Iran severed diplomatic ties earlier this year after Iranian protesters ransacked Saudi diplomatic offices there to protest the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric in January. The tensions have impacted the annual hajj pilgrimage, required of all able-bodied Muslims to perform once in their lives.
An Iranian delegation left the kingdom after a second round of talks without reaching an agreement to send Iranian pilgrims to the hajj this year, which is taking place in September.
Saudi Arabia says it could not agree to a demand made by the Iranians to allow a Shiite ritual during the hajj that includes protests against the West and often against the Sunni-ruled kingdom itself. Saudi Arabia says formally allowing them the right to protest would lead to chaos and disrupt the flow of some two million pilgrims from around the world.
Iran’s Hajj Organization said the Saudis failed to meet demands for the “security and respect” of pilgrims, while Iran’s Culture Minister Ali Jannati said Sunday that Saudi “sabotage and obstacles” mean “Iranians pilgrims cannot go to hajj this year.”
A stampede and crush of people during last year’s hajj killed more than 2,400 pilgrims, according to an Associated Press count based on figures reported by various hajj ministries and governments. Some 464 Iranians were among the dead. The official Saudi toll of 769 people killed and 934 injured has not changed since Sept. 26, and officials have yet to address the discrepancy.