Representation at Iraq meet a message: Qatar
BAGHDAD PRIME Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs HE Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al Thani says that Qatar is sending Baghdad a “message” with its low-level representation at an Arab summit in the Iraqi capital, criticising what he says is the marginalisation by the country’s Shiite-led government of its Sunni Arab minority.
The emir of Kuwait is the only Gulf Arab leader attending the summit, which Iraq had hoped would serve as its debut into the Arab mainstream after two decades of isolation. This reflects increased Sunni-Shia tensions across the region in the aftermath of last year’s Arab Spring uprisings, particularly the one against a regime dominated by a Shiite offshoot sect in Sunnimajority Syria and another by majority Shiites in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, also a Gulf Arab nation.
The PM told Al-Jazeera late on Wednesday that Syrians have a right to defend themselves against the crackdown by President Bashar Assad’s regime, suggesting that Qatar approves of arming rebels there, or is arming them already.
Majority Shiites have dominated Iraq since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni. The nation’s once powerful Sunnis complain that the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki is concentrating power in the hands of the Shiites. There is a growing desire by Sunni-majority provinces to win autonomy as a way to escape Shiite domination.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis died in the sectarian violence that began shortly after Saddam’s ouster but peaked in 2006 and 2007. Tension continues to simmer to this day, with occasional attacks by Sunni militants against Shiites and crackdowns on Sunni areas by the Shiiteled security forces.
The Premier said Qatar disapproved of the marginalisation in Iraq of “some segments, including the Sunnis,” and that this policy was not in the interest of Iraq or the Arab world.
“Qatar wants the Iraqi government to resolve this in a way that unites the Iraqi people and gives everyone their rights through a dialogue involving all parties,” he said.
Iraq is hosting the annual Arab summit for the first time since 1990, keen to show it has emerged from years of turmoil and US occupation.
But the Syria issue has clouded its attempts to win acceptance by other Arab nations, which are deeply suspicious of its ties with Iran. In a snub to Baghdad, all but one of the rulers of the six, USallied Gulf Arab nations were staying away from the summit, sending lower-level figures instead. League officials said the level of representation was aimed at showing their frustration over the lack of more assertive action on Syria.
Instead of its king, Saudi Arabia was sending its ambassador to the Arab League, a worse slap because the post is even lower than the foreign minister level. The League officials said Saudi Arabia and Qatar had wanted Iraq to invite representatives of the Syrian opposition to the summit.
Baghdad declined, much to their dismay, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The one Gulf ruler who is attending, Kuwaiti emir Sheikh Sabah al Ahmed al Sabah, was received by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Malik at Baghdad’s international airport and the two leaders held hands as they walked to the facility’s VIP lounge.
Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, but his army was driven out of the oil-rich nation the following year at the hands of a US-led coalition.
Relations between the two neighbours remained tense even after Saddam’s 2003 overthrow, but they partially thawed recently. Al Maliki visited Kuwait earlier this month.
Relations between Iraq and the Gulf Arab nations have also been tense over criticism by Shiite Iraqi politicians and clerics of Bahrain’s crackdown on Shiite protesters. The activists want discrimination by the Sunni ruling family to end.