KUWAIT, JULY 12 -- Sweden recalled its ambassador to Iraq today to protest the execution of an Iraqi-born Swedish citizen for allegedly spying for Israel, Swedish officials said.
The execution Wednesday of Jalil Mehdi Saleh Neamy was carried out despite an intensive, behind-the-scenes diplomatic effort by Sweden to persuade Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to show clemency, a spokeswoman for the Swedish Foreign Ministry said.
Neamy had been a Swedish citizen since 1980. He was arrested last August while visiting relatives in Iraq.
Neamy was the second foreigner executed by Iraq this year for allegedly being an Israeli spy. The execution last March of Farzad Bazoft, an Iranian-born journalist who lived in Britain, sparked a major diplomatic row between Baghdad and London.
Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi officials have since indicated that one of the reasons Bazoft was not shown mercy was Britain's public criticism of his conviction and death sentence and its high-profile calls for clemency.
By contrast, Sweden conducted quiet diplomacy in an attempt to save Neamy's life after he was convicted and given the death penalty April 30. Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson sent a personal message to Saddam Hussein asking for mercy, and Foreign Minister Sten Sture Andersson approached various Arab leaders asking "them to be helpful," Swedish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Lisette Lindhal Owens said.
Andersson, who has been a key player in Middle East peace efforts and has good ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization as well as many Arab leaders, did not publicly disclose whom he had approached. But at a news conference in Stockholm today, he said that "all efforts had been made" to seek a reprieve for Neamy. Andersson protested the execution and announced the recall of Sweden's envoy to Baghdad. Sweden has no death penalty.
Owens said she did not know whether Carlsson received a formal reply from Saddam Hussein. "We got our response yesterday," she added, referring to Neamy's execution.
According to Owens and another source, Neamy confessed to police after his arrest that he worked for Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency. He repeated his confession at his trial before an Iraqi revolutionary court, the sources said. A Swedish diplomat attended the proceedings, and the Iraqi government allowed the embassy to hire an Iraqi lawyer to defend Neamy, Owens said.
It is not known if Neamy explained during the trial his motivations, including why he returned to Iraq last year. Details of what information he allegedly passed to Israel also are not known.
Swedish Ambassador Henrick Amneus was informed Wednesday that the execution would take place at 5 p.m. that day, and was permitted to see Neamy before he was hanged.