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 region.
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 agendas".
"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.
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