March 20, 2014
As Iraq descends further into a pattern of intensive sectarian violence and terrorist attacks, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has accused Qatar and Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorist groups active in his country, likening this support to a declaration of war:
They are attacking Iraq, through Syria and in a direct way, and they announced war on Iraq, as they announced it on Syria, and unfortunately it is on a sectarian and political basis… I accuse them of inciting and encouraging the terrorist movements. I accuse them of supporting them politically and in the media, of supporting them with money and by buying weapons for them. I accuse them of leading an open war against the Iraqi government… These two countries are primarily responsible for the sectarian and terrorist and security crisis of Iraq (France 24, March 9).
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (NPR)
Al-Maliki concluded that he had no intentions of retaliating, but warned the two Gulf states that “support of terrorism will turn against you.” Al-Maliki reiterated his warning at a Baghdad anti-terrorism conference on March 12, saying “the state that supports terrorism holds responsibility for [the] violence faced by our countries” (Shafaq News, March 12). Al-Maliki added that terrorism in Iraq “does not differentiate between Sunni and Shiite” (Iraqi National News Agency [Baghdad], March 12). Over 1800 Iraqis have been killed in the political and sectarian violence already this year (AFP, March 8).
The Iraqi prime minister’s comments came in the midst of campaigning for parliamentary elections next month and a very public dispute with parliament over his decision to carry on disbursing government funds despite failing to get parliament to ratify the budget. Parliamentary speaker Osama al-Nujaifi has accused the prime minister of violating the constitution and described the decision to disburse funds without ratification as “embezzlement” (Iraq Pulse, March 19). Al-Maliki has little support amongst Iraq’s Sunni minority and is also engaged in a dispute with the Kurds of northern Iraq (Gulf News [Dubai] March 14). A range of Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a political and religious groups denounced the prime minister’s remarks as an effort to deflect attention from his failures in Anbar Province, the heart of the Sunni rebellion (al-Sharq al-Awsat, March 11).
Riyadh described al-Maliki’s accusations as an attempt to cover up the Iraqi prime minister’s internal shortcomings: “Instead of making haphazard accusations, the Iraqi prime minister should take measures to end the chaos and violence that swamp Iraq” (Gulf News [Dubai], March 14; Saudi Gazette, March 11).
Saudi allies Bahran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) both reacted angrily to al-Maliki’s accusations against Riyadh, with the UAE summoning the Iraqi ambassador to receive its protest in person (Emirates News Agency [Abu Dhabi], March 12; Arab News [Jeddah], March 13). The Iraqi prime minister’s statement was also condemned by Gulf Co-Operation Council secretary-general Abdullatif al-Zayani, who said the allegations were ”aggressive and baseless” (KUNA [Kuwait], March 11). Beyond their political usefulness for al-Maliki, who appears to be focusing on Iraq’s Shi’a voters for support, the prime minister’s remarks are a reflection of the strains being placed on relations between Arab nations by growing Shi’a-Sunni tensions in the Middle East.
This article first appeared in the March 20, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.