Iraq’s Shiite prime minister on Sunday slammed Sunni-ruled Qatar and Saudi Arabia’s stance on arming Syrian rebels, as Doha hosted Baghdad’s fugitive vice president who is accused of running a death squad.
Nuri al-Maliki’s remarks were the latest in a dramatic cooling of ties between Qatar and Iraq, which have sharply disagreed on how to respond to President Bashar al-Assad’s year-long deadly crackdown on dissent in Syria.
The United Nations says that more than 9,000 people have been killed since the crackdown began in mid-March last year.
The Syria issue has split the Arab world, with hardline states including Qatar and Saudi Arabia advocating arming Syrian rebels and calling for Assad’s departure, while others including Iraq want to see a political solution.
“We reject any arming (of Syrian rebels) and the process to overthrow the (Assad) regime, because this will leave a greater crisis in the region,” Maliki said at a news conference.
“The stance of these two states is very strange,” he said in apparent reference to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
“They are calling for sending arms instead of working on putting out the fire, and they will hear our voice, that we are against arming and against foreign interference.”
“We are against the interference of some countries in Syria’s internal affairs, and those countries that are interfering in Syria’s internal affairs will interfere in the internal affairs of any country,” the Iraqi leader added.
He also predicted that Assad’s regime will hang on, saying: “It has been one year and the regime did not fall, and it will not fall, and why should it fall?”
The Syria issue is fraught with sectarian tension, as its minority rulers are Alawites — an offshoot of Shiite Islam — who are trying to cling to power by brutally suppressing an uprising by the country’s majority Sunnis.
Qatar on Sunday welcomed Iraq’s Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who flew out of the autonomous Kurdistan region in north Iraq where he had been holed up since December.
Baghdad had demanded that Kurdistan hand over Hashemi, who is accused of running a death squad, to face justice, but the region declined to oblige.
Hashemi “arrived in Doha today (Sunday) in an official visit that will last a few days,” Qatari state news agency QNA said.
“He was received upon his arrival at Doha International Airport by the Qatari Minister of State Sheikh Hamad bin Nasser bin Jassem al-Thani,” QNA reported without giving further details.
A statement from Hashemi’s office said that he will meet Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, before visiting unnamed other countries and returning to Kurdistan.
Maliki earlier told the news conference that Hashemi “is wanted in a member country of the Arab League, and he should not be received, especially under the title of vice president,” when asked about the possibility of Hashemi visiting other Arab states.
There have been other recent bumps in relations between Iraq and various Gulf countries, especially Qatar, that also involve a sectarian dimension.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad said in an interview with Al-Jazeera that “the weak representation from the Gulf countries in the Baghdad summit is a message to the government of Iraq.”
He went on to accuse Iraq of “neglecting” some parts of its population, including minority Sunnis, in the formation of its government.
Kuwait was the only one of the six Sunni-ruled Gulf Cooperation Council nations to be represented by its head of state at a landmark summit in Baghdad on Thursday.
“They should be more concerned about their own political issues and human rights issues and demands of their own population for democratic reforms than to judge others,” Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told AFP.
Iraq’s majority Shiites came to power after decades of Sunni rule, following the 2003 US-led invasion that forced Saddam Hussein from power. The country’s Sunnis and Shiites later did battle in a bloody civil war.