Raising Middle East tensions, Qatar’s emir criticizes Egypt, Iraq

AP

Qatar’s ruler on Tuesday criticized Iraq’s Shiite-led government and Egyptian authorities in an address to the opening session of an Arab summit in Kuwait, a move that is likely to add a new layer to tension in the region.

Sheik Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani also criticized fellow Arab leaders for not following through on a Qatari proposal made a year ago to set up a $1 billion fund to help the Arab residents of eastern Jerusalem, defiantly stating that his tiny but super-rich nation will go ahead with the $250 million it has already pledged.

A resolution to create the fund was adopted by last year’s Arab summit held in Qatar.

“The resolution was not executed and that calls on me to declare before you that Qatar remains committed to the funds it has pledged and will set up the Qatari fund for the support of Jerusalem,” Tamim said.

He also renewed calls for a small Arab summit to be held to resolve differences between the militant Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip, and the Western-backed Fatah group in the West Bank. Qatar supports Hamas.

Without naming Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Tamim criticized what he said were attempts to sideline entire segments of that Arab nation, a reference to Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority. His criticism of Iraq’s government follow recent comments by al-Maliki in which he accused Qatar and Saudi Arabia of supporting Sunni militants in Iraq.

“It’s about time for Iraq to emerge from the vicious circle of violence and differences. That cannot come about through the sidelining of entire society segments or accusing it of terrorism if they demand equality and inclusion,” he said.

“It is inappropriate that everyone who fails to maintain national unity accuses other Arab nations of supporting terrorism in his nation,” he said, alluding to the comments by al-Maliki, who is staying away from the summit.

Tamim also called on Egypt to start a “political dialogue,” an implicit criticism of the crackdown there against the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that Qatar backs and of which Islamist President Mohammed Morsi is a member.

The military removed Morsi last July and there has been a massive crackdown against the Brotherhood, with the arrest of thousands and the killing of hundreds of its supporters. Morsi and leaders of the Brotherhood are in detention and some are in court on charges that carry the death penalty.

The criticism of Egypt, though implicit, is likely to further strain relations with Cairo at a time when Qatar’s own relations with heavyweight Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council — are fraught with tension. Egypt and the three Arab nations have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar.

Qatar has reacted with dismay at the diplomatic gestures but insists it will push ahead with its own policies.

Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah has said his country will “follow a path of its own” and that the independence of its “foreign policy is simply non-negotiable.”

Qatar, a U.S. ally and home to one of Washington’s largest military bases abroad, has in recent years played an outsized role in Arab affairs, spearheading efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis and mediating in some of Sudan’s internal conflicts.

At the heart of Egypt’s dispute with Qatar is its perceived support for Morsi. Cairo’s government also blames the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television network for inciting violence.

Saudi Arabia and its close Gulf Arab allies Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates complain that Qatar meddles in their internal affairs by supporting the opposition — the Muslim Brotherhood in the case of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

They also want Qatar to stop supporting Shiite rebels in Yemen, an impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation that is of strategic significance to Saudi Arabia. And they want Qatar to make sure that its arms shipments to guerrillas fighting the Syrian government do not wind up in the hands of terrorists.