Iran protests Iraq over raid on diplomatic site

TEHRAN (AP): Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday it “strongly condemns” Iraq’s raid on Tehran’s consulate in Karbala over the killing of a prominent activist. Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh Monday told reporters that Iran handed over a “letter of protest” to the Iraqi embassy in Tehran and urged the neighboring Arab nations to pursue the case under international conventions.

“Iran strongly condemns attacks on its diplomatic sites in Iraq,” said Khatibzadeh in a weekly briefing in Tehran. A day earlier, Iraqi protesters set fire to trailers belonging to Iran’s consulate in Karbala amid widespread anger over the killing of Ehab Wazni, an activist who took part in anti-government protests that swept Iraq in October 2019. He was shot overnight Saturday outside his home by unknown assailants.

Wazni’s death sparked daylong protests in Karbala, with demonstrators blocking roads and bridges with burning tires. Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Iranian consulate, burning tires in front of the building and setting fire to several trailers parked outside. Similar scenes played out in November 2019 during protests in Baghdad and Iraq’s majority-Shiite provinces in the south.

The remarks came as Khatibzadeh on Monday for the first-time confirmed that a recent talks between Iran and its regional rival Saudi Arabia hosted by Iraq, the first public recognition of Baghdad’s role as mediator. The talks with Saudi Arabia have focused on “both bilateral and regional” issues, said Khatibzadeh. “We have always welcomed these talks at any level and in any form.”

Khatibzadeh did not elaborate on details but said, “We should always welcome removal of antagonism. We hope to reach a meaningful understanding on both bilateral relations and regional issues.” On Wednesday, Iraq’s President Barham Salih said his country recently hosted direct talks between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran on more than one occasion.

Salih said during an interview broadcast live by the Beirut Institute, a think tank, that the first round of talks between Riyadh and Tehran took place early last month. He said talks have since occurred “more than once,” describing the discussions as ongoing, “important and significant.” Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been regional rivals and support opposite sites in Yemen and elsewhere in the region. Relations worsened considerably in 2016, when Riyadh removed its diplomats after protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad in retaliation for the kingdom executing a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr. Iran and Iraq has had close relations since the toppling of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who waged an eight-year war against Iran in 1980 that left some one million casualties on both sides.