Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) Qatar has asked to transfer ransom money meant for the release of Qatari hunters from their captors in Iraq to Shia paramilitary troops as a “gift”, a Saudi newspaper has claimed
Quoting unnamed Iraqi sources, Saudi paper Okaz said in a report on Monday that Qatari Foreign Minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who met with Iraqi premier Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad last week, had asked to transfer US$500 million, originally meant as ransom payment for the hunters’ release, as a “gift” to the Popular Mobilization Units, the alliance of Iran-trained Shia paramilitary groups fighting Islamic State militants alongside the Iraqi government forces.
The 26 Qataris, including members of the country’s ruling royal family, were abducted by militiamen during a hunting trip in southern Iraq in 2015. They were released in April.
A diplomatic row erupted upon the release of the captives when Baghdad said it discovered suitcases containing hundreds of millions of dollars in the possession of a high-profile Qatari delegation which arrived in Iraq to follow up on the release. While Baghdad suggested the amount was meant to pay ransom to kidnappers without its approval, Doha maintained the money entered Iraq with the government’s knowledge, and that it was designed to “support the Iraqi government’s efforts” to ensure the release of the abductees.
Okaz added that the Qatari move came before Al Thani and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, Qassem Suleimani, held a meeting in Baghdad a week earlier.
The Saudi newspaper’s report comes amid a growing rift between Qatar and its Gulf allies led by Saudi Arabia regarding relations with Iran. Qatar has criticized the outcome of a U.S.-Arab summit held in Riyadh last week which, it said, involved an escalation against Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch regional rival.
The report also comes after recent diplomatic tensions that saw Saudi Arabia blocking a number of prominent Qatari media outlets over statements attributed to Qatari king Tamim bin Hamad which criticized the Riyadh summit’s stance against Iran. Qatar has denied the statements, saying the media outlets had been hacked.