Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki accuses Saudis of 'interference'

Nouri Maliki: "Saudi Arabia is governed by a certain sectarian mentality"

Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki has told the BBC that Saudi Arabia has "clearly interfered" in Syria and in Iraqi internal affairs.

He said he believed Saudi Arabia was facilitating the entry of foreign "mercenaries" into Iraq, worsening the sectarian violence.

Mr Maliki said the violence in Syria was causing "security problems" in Iraq's Anbar province.

He also denied that Iraq was part of an Iranian-led Shia "axis" in the region.

"Anyone who classes Iraq as a Shia state or system is wrong," Mr Maliki told BBC Arabic.

'Fight al-Qaeda'

Iraq has been going through a period of renewed violence in recent months, driven principally by widespread discontent among the country's Sunni minority and by the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

Mr Maliki, who belongs to the Shia majority, has been accused of marginalising the Sunni minority, which has led to violence in Sunni-majority Anbar.

He has previously said claims of marginalisation come from sectarian groups with links to Saudi Arabia and Qatar and told the BBC that "terrorists" were "flooding into Iraq from Syria".

He went on to say it was Iraq's "national, human duty" to "fight al-Qaeda in Syria" and rejected the idea that there was popular opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

"The alternative to the regime in Syria is... terrorism and slaughter," he said.

Mr Maliki has previously accused Saudi Arabia of supporting global "terrorism".

In the interview with BBC Arabic, he was asked whether Saudi Arabia was meddling in Iraq.

He said: "Clearly interference in Iraqi affairs. Whilst it's true that Saudi Arabia prohibited Saudi nationals from entering Iraq, it is possible to send non-Saudis. There are many Nigerian and Chadian mercenaries who are paid money to enter Iraq."

At the end of this month, Mr Maliki is seeking a third consecutive term in office in a general election.

Mr Maliki's Shia-dominated State of Law alliance is widely seen as the front-runner, with analysts saying the strongest challenge is likely to come from rival Shia factions.

The poll takes place with violence in Iraq reaching its highest level since the peak of the sectarian insurgency from 2006 to 2008.

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