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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Qatar & the Islamic State (IS) versus Iraq & Syria


David Cameron meets Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar.

Many commentators have made much of the possibility – or, some say, fact – that Saudi Arabia is funding, arming and supporting the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. However, others are suspicious of this claim.

Recently, speculation has focused on Qatar’s role in this conflict. Officially, Qatar has been supporting the US-led military action against IS since September.

Qatar officials have said that they haven’t been supporting the Islamic State. A distinction has to be made here, however, as to whether or not this is about the Qatar’s support of IS in Syria or in Iraq. (This distinction may not amount to much in the end.)

As far as Syria (not Iraq) is concerned, Qatar has admitted to supporting what they and the United States government call “moderate” fighters (or even “moderate militants”). That support is also in cooperation with the CIA and with Western and Arab intelligence agencies.

The support of Syrian “moderates” makes sense because many of those Islamist fighters in Syria are Muslim Brotherhood and the Brotherhood has a strong history and influence in both Qatar society and the state.
In terms of detail, it is known that moneyed people in Qatar have made donations to Islamist (Muslim Brotherhood) groups in Syria. The Qatar government has also given money to these groups. Qatar’s capital, Doha, is also thought to have links to the al-Nusra Front (which isn’t so closely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood); which is an arm of al-Qaeda.
Predictably, because Bashar Assad’s regime is Shia (Alawite), the Qatar state (or at least its Director of Intelligence) has said that Qatar has nothing to hide when it comes to its support of Sunni groups attempting to destroy Bashar Assad’s regime.Finally, not only is it the case that some of the “moderate” Sunni groups fighting in Syria aren’t, well, moderate; so some of them have also joined IS, the al-Nusra Front and other outright jihadist forces in the last few years.
As everyone knows, Qatar and Saudi Arabia supply the United States and the United Kingdom with much oil – and that changes everything. Even some British politicians have been open about the political ramifications of this. In early October, for example, British MPs questioned the close relationship between Qatar and the UK.This skepticism about the “special relationship” between Qatar and the UK isn’t surprising. For a start, not only do Britons rely on Qatar’s oil, this Gulf State is also a major investor in the UK. Its “sovereign wealth fund”, for example, has also been the subject of various allegations.

There is an unwillingness amongst many commentators to acknowledge the Islamic nature of Qatar’s support for the Islamic State (IS). To state what amounts to the obvious: Qatar is a Sunni country; whereas Iraq is overwhelmingly Shia. Not only that: the Shia have almost total control over the Iraqi state. Thus it follows that Qatar supports IS for a similar reason as to why Iran support the Iraqi state. That is, Qatar supports IS because it wants to destroy both the Iraqi and Syrian Shia states; just as Iran supports the Iraqis against IS because it wants to stop the latter from destroying the Iraqi state. (Shia Iran also wants to increase its power in Iraq regardless of the recent episode with IS.)

So when Qatar denies funding and support of IS all that means is that the Qatar state doesn’t officially support it. Other Qatar institutions and individuals are, of course, supporting IS; as the state itself may be doing (though not officially). Something similar is true of Saudi Arabia. Even though the Saudi state isn’t supporting and funding IS, many Saudi institutions and individuals will be doing so.

It may well be the case that the Saudi state has far more to fear from IS than the Qatar; even though the latter’s existence is also at risk. However, one important point is that Qatar doesn’t border Iraq. Saudi Arabia does. That alone may account for any differences there are between Qatar and Saudi Arabia when it comes to the Islamic State. (Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Iran and Turkey all border – to greater and lesser degrees – Iraq.)

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