Iraq, Qatar ties strained over fugitive al-Hashemi
BAGHDAD / DOHA
Relations between Iraq and Qatar become more strained after Gulf countries including Qatar stays away from the Arab League summit hosted by Iraq last week.Iraq has said Qatar’s playing host to fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi is “unacceptable,” and called on the Gulf emirate to hand him over. Al-Hashemi immediately rebuffed Baghdad’s demand, saying he enjoys constitutional immunity and has not been convicted, fuelling the tension between two countries.
“Receiving a wanted person is an unacceptable act, and Qatar should back off from this stance and return him to Iraq,” Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told a news conference in Baghdad. Al-Shahristani blasted Kurdish leaders for ignoring the nationwide arrest warrant and letting al-Hashemi leave the country via Arbil airport. “To allow al-Hashemi to leave in this way represents a clear challenge to Iraqi law,” the Associated Press quoted al-Shahristani as saying.
Al-Hashemi arrived in Doha April 1, and met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to discuss “relations between the two brotherly countries and developments in the region,” according to Qatari state news agency QNA.
He “left the Kurdistan region of Iraq this morning, Sunday, going to Doha,” accepting an invitation he had previously received, a statement from al-Hashemi’s office emailed to Agence France-Presse said. In a defiant response, al-Hashemi said he has constitutional immunity and has not been convicted. “There has not been a judicial decision against me from any court, and the demand does not respect Article 93 of the constitution, which provides me with immunity,” he said.
‘Touring some capitals’
Al-Hashemi is accused of running a death squad against Shiite pilgrims, government officials, and security forces, but he denies the allegations against him, and says they are politically motivated.
“Why do they demand that Qatar extradite me? ... Officials in Kurdistan have responded to a similar request by telling them that I have immunity according to Article 93,” al-Hashemi said. Al-Hashemi said he will return to northern Iraq after a “tour around some capitals,” which he did not name. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a news conference on April 1 that al-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 al-Hashemi visiting other Arab states.
The strained relations are also linked to Baghdad’s close ties with Iran and its ambivalent stance on the year-long conflict in Syria. The frosty relations were on display at an Arab League summit hosted by Iraq last week. The rulers of Sunni-led Gulf states including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates stayed away, snubbing Iraq by sending lower-level officials in their place.