JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — A day after pressuring Saudi Arabia to take them in, the Iraqi government ordered 18,000 Iraqi pilgrims home Saturday after Saudi officials refused to use frozen Iraqi funds to pay for the annual hajj pilgrimage.
The kingdom provided the pilgrims with visas and made all arrangements to house and transport them, but they left without performing any of the rituals, saidSaudi Interior Minister Prince Nayif ibn Abdulaziz.
Iraq's state-run television said all the pilgrims had returned to Iraq on Saturday.
Iraq had accused Saudi Arabia of surrounding its pilgrims with tanks and armored vehicles, forcing Baghdad to decide they should be recalled home.
"The Saudi authorities surrounded our pilgrims' complex with heavy tanks and armored vehicles and deployed soldiers who carried weapons and automatic rifles . . . aimed at Iraqi pilgrims," Baghdad television quoted Mohsein Fahim Farhood, an advisor at the Presidential Office who accompanied the pilgrims, as saying.