* Saud warns against "foreign interference, outside agendas"
* Iran: won't hesitate to defend Iraq's Shi'ite holy sites
(Adds UAE recalling envoy, quotes)
By Noah Browning and Rania El Gamal
DUBAI, June 18 Saudi Arabia gave an apparent
warning to regional rival Iran on Wednesday not to intervene in
the conflict in Iraq which it said could escalate to full civil
war with implications beyond Iraqi frontiers.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a fellow Sunni Muslim Gulf
dynasty, announced it was recalling its envoy to Baghdad for
consultations, and criticised what it called the sectarian
policies of Iraq's government, an ally of Shi'ite power Iran.
Their statements coincided with an Iranian warning that
Tehran would not hesitate to defend Shi'ite Muslim holy sites in
Iraq against "killers and terrorists", following advances by
Sunni militants there.
The toughening rhetoric about Iraq from Gulf powers on both
sides of the region's Sunni-Shi'ite sectarian divide suggested
that Tehran and Riyadh have put on hold recent plans to discuss
curbing their long rivalry.
The sectarian edge to the Saudi-Iran struggle has sharpened
in the last few years. The two see themselves as representatives
of opposing visions of Islam: the Saudis as guardians of Mecca
and conservative Sunni hierarchy, and Shi'ite Iran as the
vanguard of an Islamic revolution in support of the downtrodden.
Speaking at a gathering of Arab and Muslim leaders in
Jeddah, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Iraq
was facing a civil war with grave consequences for the wider
Prince Saud urged nations racked by violence to meet the
"legitimate demands of the people and to achieve national
reconciliation (without) foreign interference or outside
"This grave situation that is storming Iraq carries with it
the signs of civil war whose implications for the region we
cannot fathom," he said.
He did not elaborate but the remarks appeared aimed at
Shi'ite Iran, which is also an ally of the government of Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad.
The prince said the three-year-old civil war in Syria,
where a largely Sunni Muslim uprising has failed to unseat
Assad, had "helped to deepen the internal disturbance in Iraq".
Announcing the recall of its envoy, the UAE said it was
worried that the Iraqi government's "sectarian" policies could
heighten political tensions and worsen security there.
In a statement on the official WAM news agency, the foreign
ministry added that the UAE opposed any interference in Iraq's
affairs and sought the creation of a national unity government.
"The ministry expressed its deep concern at the policy of
exclusion, sectarianism and marginalisation of basic components
of the Iraqi people," the statement said.
The UAE reaffirmed its condemnation of the "terrorism" of
the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which it
said had led to the killing of many innocent Iraqis.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, an ally of Iran, has
appealed for national unity with Sunni critics of his
Shi'ite-led government after a stunning offensive through the
north of the country by ISIL over the past week.
Maliki has accused Saudi Arabia of backing ISIL, who want to
carve out a Sunni caliphate in the heart of the Middle East.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia blamed the Iraqi crisis on Maliki,
citing what it called years of "sectarian and exclusionary
policies" by his government against Iraq's Sunni minority.
Maliki and several Iranian officials have for months alleged
that several Gulf Arab governments support ISIL.
And on Saturday, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said that
"terrorist groups" were getting backing and weaponry from
countries in the region and powerful Western states. He named no
countries, but was alluding in part to Sunni Gulf Arabs.
Western diplomats say it is private Gulf Arab donors who
follow an ultraconservative brand of Sunni Islam who appear the
more likely source of ISIL's funding from the Gulf.
While the Saudi government has yet to specifically condemn
ISIL by name, the group is no friend of Riyadh's, having battled
the kingdom's allies in infighting among Sunni rebels in Syria.
Not only do Tehran and Riyadh share the fear that Iraq may
disintegrate into a sectarian bloodbath, in the short term
ISIL's advance is likely to raise suspicions between them.
While Tehran sees Gulf Arab hands behind ISIL, Riyadh fears
not only that Iran will intervene in Iraq but that it will do so
in coordination with Iran's traditional adversary Washington,
which is equally keen to roll back ISIL's territorial gains.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Moghtader and Amena Bakr;
Editing by William Maclean and Louise Ireland)