Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki accused Qatar and Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorist movements in the country and in effect waging a war against his government.
In an interview with France 24 that was broadcast on Saturday, the Iraqi leader claimed that the monarchies were “inciting and encouraging the terrorist movements” in his country. “I accuse them of supporting them politically and in the media; of supporting them with money and by buying weapons for them,” he said. “I accuse them of leading an open war against the Iraqi government.”
The blunt remarks come after years of sectarian violence in Iraq that has pitted Sunni groups against a central government in Baghdad that is dominated by Shia Muslims. Most recently, the conflict broke out in the Sunni majority province of Anbar where militants linked to the terrorist organization Al Qaeda took control in the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah. Nearly 2,000 Iraqis have been killed in violence this year alone.
Despite his accusations, Maliki said he would not retaliate against his neighbors. “We don’t wish to widen the arena of confrontation,” he said. “But we’re telling those countries: be aware, be careful, because the support of terrorism will turn against you.”
Maliki, a Shia, is seen by Sunnis in his own country and the Sunni monarchs in the Persian Gulf as having moved increasingly toward an alliance with their nemesis Iran since American troops withdrew from the country in 2011 after nearly a decade of war.
Unlike other Arab leaders, Maliki has not called on Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran’s, to step down. Instead, he warned last year that Assad’s downfall could destabilize the entire Middle East.
Saudi Arabia and its allies back the largely Sunni uprising against Assad’s minority Alawite regime which has managed to hold on to power in the northwest of the country as well as the capital Damascus with support from Iran and Russia.
The rebellion in the south and southeast of Syria has become intertwined with the Sunni unrest in Iraq’s west — to the point where some suspect it might be carving out a new state to disrupt the “Shia Crescent” that runs from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon.
Iraq, in turn, has challenged Saudi Arabia’s supremacy in OPEC, the cartel of oil exporting countries. It said earlier this year it intends to boost its oil output to nine million barrels per day by the end of this decade, an increase from three million barrels late last year.
Such an increase in Iraq’s production might be difficult to pull off, given that much of its export industry is still in need of significant expansion or repair. But it would anyway challenge Saudi Arabia’s status as the “swing producer” in OPEC.
The kingdom has used its influence in the cartel to keep prices above $100 per barrel. More Iraqi oil could depress prices worldwide which would undermine authoritarian Arab regimes’ ability to stave off popular unrest with generous public spending.