Thamer Al-Sabhan, the new Saudi ambassador to Iraq, caused an uproar in the Iraqi media and among the country's politicians when he suggested, in a January 24 interview on Sumaria TV, that the predominantly Shiite Popular Mobilization Units - which are fighting Sunni militants under the auspices of the government - were involved in ISIS-like atrocities, in the framework of an effort to bring about demographic changes near the Iranian border.
Thamer Al-Sabhan: "Let me ask you: How come in some Iraqi areas – like the Kurdish areas and Al-Anbar – they refused to let the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) enter?"
Thamer Al-Sabhan: "I don't know. You can ask them."
Interviewer: "Perhaps you know, but don't want to tell..."
Thamer Al-Sabhan: "No. I just want to show you that the PMU are not welcomed by Iraqi society."
Interviewer: "You must have followed or heard about what happened in Muqdadiyah and Diyala – it got a lot of press coverage in the Arab world. How do you view what happened? What conclusions did you draw from it?"
Thamer Al-Sabhan: "First of all, I would like to offer my condolences to everybody, for our brothers killed in Muqdadiyah, and for the journalists who were killed there. They are all martyrs. My condolences to their families. We all talk about terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. We all talk about their actions, their killings, and so on and so forth... Is what happened in Muqdadiyah any different from what these groups do in Iraq?"
Interviewer: "Absolutely not, but there is a dispute over who did it."
Thamer Al-Sabhan: "Who controls these areas?"
Interviewer: "Do you mean security-wise?"
Thamer Al-Sabhan: "Who is responsible for these areas? Who is on the ground there?"
Interviewer: "Are you suggesting that..."
Thamer Al-Sabhan: "I'm not suggesting anything, because I have no information."
Interviewer: "You are not suggesting, but you declare..."
Thamer Al-Sabhan: "I don not have this information. If I knew this for sure, I would say it without any reservation. But the area I'm talking about – we know who lives there, and we know with which country this area borders. Everybody is talking about this openly in the Iraqi media. All the officials are talking about this. How come this happened in Muqdadiyah, but not elsewhere? Was it in order to change the demographic composition there? Was it because in the elections before the last ones, the Sunnis won 17 seats and the Shiites got only 5 seats? In the last elections, the Sunnis got 13 seats and so did the Shiites. This area is going through a demographic change.
"Our relations with Iran have been tense for a long time – since the Iranian revolution, the inception of the principle of exporting the revolution, and the adoption of the doctrine of the 'Rule of the Jurisprudent.' They look at all the countries as if they should belong to them.
"We sat with the Iranians a number of times, and I think that they were given more than enough chances. However, we have not seen any response from them. Their actions contradict their statements."
Interviewer: "This means that the rift could go on for years."
Thamer Al-Sabhan: "The Iranians should be aware of their actual size and natural position. They should know that Saudi Arabia and all the Arab countries will never allow another country to interfere in their internal affairs, or to impose a fait accompli on them in their own countries."