Iraq denies any link to abduction of Qatari hunters
BAGHDAD - Iraq's foreign minister denied Tuesday any link between his government and the kidnappers of 26 Qatari hunters, allegedly people linked to Shiite militiamen on whom Baghdad relies heavily against the Islamic State group.
During a press conference after talks with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah, a reporter asked Ibrahim al-Jaafari to comment on "accusations that the kidnappers are members of Hashad al-Shaabi (Shiite paramilitary force), which is linked to the Iraqi government."
"I categorically deny that the Iraqi government has any link to the (kidnapping) case," Jaafari said. "I hope some would not become suspicious that the government colluded" with the kidnappers.
Wealthy citizens of Sunni Gulf states venture to countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq to hunt with falcons without the bag limits and conservation measures they face at home.
The Qataris, which include members of the small country's royal family, were kidnapped in southern Iraq last week.
There is significant hostility in Iraq, especially in the Shiite-majority south, over the Gulf countries' policies on the Syrian civil war and perceived complicity in the rise of ISIS.
Jaafari acknowledged that security problems in his war-torn country could have led to the kidnapping.
He also insisted that the Iraqi government has been working to resolve the issue and secure the release of the Qataris.
His remarks came after the Gulf Cooperation Council condemned Tuesday the kidnapping as a "breach of international law" and warned it could "hurt relations between Arab brothers."
A statement called on Baghdad to shoulder "its international legal commitments and to take immediate and decisive measures to ensure the safety of those abducted and secure their release."
The hunters entered Iraq with an "official permit" from the interior ministry, Qatari has said.
Kuwaiti media reported at the weekend that at least seven of the Qataris had managed to flee from their captors and travel home through Kuwait.
There has been no official Qatari confirmation.
The kidnappings come a little over three months after gunmen seized 18 Turks in Baghdad before later releasing them unharmed.
Turkey, like Qatar, has close ties to Syrian rebel groups and is accused by some of not doing enough to combat ISIS.