Saudi and Qatari newspapers on Tuesday lashed out at Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over his implicit criticism of Saudi Arabia and Qatar for their calls to arm Syrian rebels.
“Gulf (states) should boycott Maliki and his government,” wrote Tariq al-Homayed, the editor of Asharq al-Awsat, calling for the “punishment of all who stand with the tyrant of Damascus, first and foremost Maliki’s government.”
“Boycott him to prevent the emergence of a new Saddam or another Bashar,” wrote Homayed in the Saudi owned pan-Arab daily, referring to the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad.
The Saudi media campaign against Maliki came after the Iraqi prime minister said Baghdad rejected “any arming (of Syrian rebels) and the process to overthrow the Assad regime,” arguing that the call by Qatar and Saudi to arm Syrian rebels “will leave a greater crisis in the region.”
He also cautioned that “those countries that are interfering in Syria’s internal affairs will interfere in the internal affairs of any country.”
Maliki’s comments followed what media reports said was an “official visit” to Qatar, which began on Sunday, by Iraq’s fugitive vice president Tareq al-Hashemi, who is accused of running a death squad.
Another Saudi daily, Al-Riyadh, struck at Iraq’s strong ties to neighbouring Iran and questioned Maliki’s allegiances in its Tuesday editorial.
“Is Maliki a voice for Iran or the ruler of Iraq?” asked the editorial, noting that “the Syrian people revolted against injustices similar to those suffered by Iraq under Saddam.”
The newspaper argued that Maliki appears more concerned with the rise to power of the Sunnis in Damascus.
The Syrian crisis has raised sectarian tensions, as its minority rulers are Alawites — an offshoot of Shiite Islam — who are trying to cling to power by brutally suppressing an uprising led by the country’s majority Sunnis.
In Iraq, a Shiite government came to power after the 2003 US-led invasion ousted Saddam, whose Sunni regime marginalised the country’s Shiites for decades.
Saudi’s Al-Watan daily further described Maliki’s prediction that Assad’s regime “will not fall” as “laughable”, noting that his stance on the year-long uprising in Syria is not “out of love for the Damascus regime but rather because of his bias towards the stance of (his) Iranian ally.”
Maliki also came in for harsh remarks in Qatari newspaper Al-Sharq.
The newspaper slammed Maliki’s “campaign” against Hashemi “and countries that sympathise with him.”
“It is clear that the policy of this leader of the Shiite Dawa party is not just against the Sunni presence in the Iraqi administration, but also against every one whose opinion does not follow Maliki’s way in managing Iraq,” it said.
“Due to his ignorance when it comes to diplomatic relations, he went asking countries visited by the vice president not to welcome him, and to hand him over,” it charged.
Al-Sharq further said that Maliki’s behaviour “does not just reflect ignorance of diplomatic norms, but also ignorance of Arab and Iraqi traditions, which he must be lacking due to staying out of Iraq for a long part of his life.”
Baghdad demanded Monday that Doha hand over Hashemi.