Thamer Al Sabhan Image Credit: SPA

Manama: Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Iraq has been appointed Minister of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The appointment of Thamer Al Sabhan was announced in a royal order issued by King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Saturday.

Abdul Aziz Al Shammari, the former military attaché in Germany who was transferred to the foreign ministry in August, was on Friday named as the charge d’affairs in the Saudi diplomatic mission in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

“Praise be to God and I pray that this post will help me in serving my religion, my king, my nation and my fellow citizens,” Al Sabhan posted on his Twitter account upon his appointment.

Al Sabhan presented his credentials to the Iraqi president in January as the first Saudi ambassador in Baghdad after a hiatus of more than 25 years caused by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

The ambassador soon made headlines in Iraq for his frank and genuine opinions, and his statements about the power and threats of Iran-backed militias in Iraq made his presence in the country “undesirable” for radical groups hostile to Saudi Arabia.

The statements culminated in late August when Al Sabhan said he was provided with information about plans to assassinate him and that sectarian radical groups were behind the threats.

Iraq reacted by officially asking Saudi Arabia to withdraw Al Sabhan from the country.

“The Iraqi foreign ministry has sent an official request to the Saudi foreign ministry to replace its ambassador to Iraq,” ministry spokesman Ahmad Jamal said.

“Several statements and opinions voiced in the media overstepped the boundaries of diplomatic protocol and of an ambassador’s duties.”

He added that Baghdad was “very keen” on developing relations with Saudi Arabia as “a good neighbour.”

“The call to replace the ambassador will not affect, from our side, the present or future of these relations, and in fact, we look forward to positive developments,” Jamal said.

However, Al Sabhan said he was surprised by the Iraqi reaction towards an Arab country despite the interference of Iran in its domestic affairs.

“Some components of Iraqi society may have been upset by my recent remarks to the media, but they do not represent the Iraqi people. We have received all love and compassion from the Iraqi people who are keen on cooperation between Riyadh and Baghdad. We do appreciate that some of them suffer from the interference of military advisers from countries in the region in their internal affairs.”

The ambassador said Saudi Arabia’s policy towards Iraq would remain steady and would not be affected by the request to replace him.

“Saudi Arabia will not change its convictions and will not give up on the Arabism of Iraq,” Al Sabhan said. “Saudi Arabia will intensify its efforts to achieve the welfare of honourable Iraqis. The ambassador represents the policy of his country, and not his person.”

The decision by the Iraqi government to ask for Al Sabhan’s replacement was reportedly taken without consulting Iraqi ministers or the parliament.