US-Qatar Relations a Risk to Anti-IS Coalition

According to American and Arab officials, the close relations between the U.S. and the Kingdom of Qatar endanger the stability of the global coalition against the Islamic State group. This morning (Saturday), the Wall Street Journal quoted a number of senior officials, claiming that the kingdom’s close relationship with terrorist groups in the Middle East is a “problem” in dealing with the Islamic State group, which conquered territory on a wide scale in Iraq and Syria.

Following the launch of the Arab Spring in 2010, the U.S. strengthened its cooperation with Qatar. During this time, American authorities used Doha as a channel of communication to radical groups in the region which Washington wanted to weaken. According to officials, these close ties led to doubts about Doha’s sincerity. Besides the Islamic State group, some of the groups mentioned as an example by officials included Hamas and Jabhat al-Nusra, an organization which operates in Syria and is linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Last month, Qatar confirmed that it helped release the 45 Fijian soldiers held captive by Jabhat al-Nusra. According to various reports, the Kingdom’s authorities paid approximately $20 million for their release. The American Department of the Treasury already voiced concerns regarding transfer of funds of this sort — department officials claim that a Qatari businessman transferred $2 million to a senior Islamic State group commander in Syria last year who is in charge of recruiting foreign fighters to the organization. Additionally, over the summer, Secretary of State John Kerry tried to use Qatar as a mediator in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. According to Israeli, Egyptian and Saudi officials, Washington’s dependence on Qatar will only increase Qatar’s desire to cooperate with radical organizations.

Likewise, diplomats from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates warned the White House that Qatar is playing “two-faced” in the region — it publicly supports U.S. policy while simultaneously supporting enemies of the U.S. These countries urge Washington to adopt a stricter stance against Doha’s relations with these organizations. These same officials have raised concern over Qatar’s role in fighting the Islamic State group. Although Qatar’s spy planes accompany the coalition’s fighter jets, Qatar itself does not attack targets of the radical Sunni group.

Washington’s Arab allies warned that the global coalition could fall apart if all its members do not commit to acting decisively against terrorist groups in the region, especially by ceasing funding and diplomatic ties with such groups. “There has to be a policy of zero tolerance toward radicalism,” declared King Abdullah of Jordan in a special convention of the U.N. Security Council last month, which addressed ways to deal with the Islamic State group. Arab officials stated that the king’s message was directed toward Qatar and Turkey. Turkey has also been criticized for its close ties with radical Islamic groups.

Officials of the Kingdom refused to address the king’s comments. On many occasions, the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and his foreign minister denied that Qatar transfers funds to the Islamic State group and other terrorist organizations, and emphasized that Doha will continue to preserve an “independent” foreign policy.

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