Qatar’s regional power game has no future
It is no coincidence that, following the US occupation of Iraq, Qatar became a safe haven for the Sunni Iraqi armed resistance. Many resistance groups went to Doha, where they received money and weapons, but their anti-occupation operations were limited.
US and Iranian intelligence services kept a vigilant eye on those groups. Many people who had been recruited for anti-occupation operations vanished or were imprisoned. The Iraqi armed resistance was obviously infiltrated, especially by Tehran and Washington.
All the political players for Iraq’s Sunni opposition had to secure Qatar’s blessing just to have a shot at the political game in Iraq. The Sunni Arabs in Iraq were betrayed twice — once by their leadership, which had acted as the middleman between them and Doha; then by extremist Shia politicians in Iraq.
Saudi support to Sunni Arabs in Iraq has been greatly exaggerated. The source for that misrepresentation is Iran. The main backer of Sunni Arabs in Iraq was Qatar. It was given that role to feed its dreams of grandeur. Being smaller than Saudi Arabia, Qatar proved to be nimbler on the political scene and more willing to take risks. Saudi Arabia has always opted for a more prudent, traditional approach and had given in to American pressure to keep away from the Iraqi file.
To compensate for its small weight internationally, Qatar chose to invest heavily in mass media. In 1996, it established Al Jazeera, which, some Jordanian media sources said, had been slated by Israel to have its headquarters in Jordan. A short time after the launch of Al Jazeera, the same sources commented that “the small state of Qatar is now owner of a weapon of mass destruction.”
Qatar had decided to plunge itself in the domain of Arab media. In 1997, it financed an Iraqi journalist living in London opposed to Saddam Hussein’s regime. He was given loads of capital to start a daily newspaper but kept most of it for himself. He hired people within Iraqi opposition media and paid them pittances, despite the direct oversight of Qatari intelligence inside the newspaper. His downfall came when the newspaper published news showing the wife of the former Qatari emir in a bad light. The case was settled amicably in the British courts.
As the battle for Mosul continues to unfold, the major parties in Iraq are fearing a profound shake-up of their sectarian dominance of the Iraqi political scene, especially following US President Donald Trump’s threats against power centres of political Islam. Amid this feverish activity, Qatar has tried to advance the careers of some Sunni political midgets, after polishing their portraits of course. These novices sneaked in on the political scene via the finance channel.
Traditional political figures are refusing to step down despite their impressive record of failure. Qatar has sponsored meetings of Iraqi Sunni politicians in Ankara, Geneva and lately in Brussels under the auspices of the European Institute of Peace. The old guard participating in these meetings excelled in the arts of turf protection and back-stabbing. No new blood was injected. The old guard wants to prove to the Americans that they are the only Sunni representatives on the scene. Their main concern is the preservation of their privileges.
The international parties overseeing the Iraqi file have grown sick and tired of the corrupt political class in Iraq. They did not bother, however, to look for honest, clean and non-sectarian alternatives.
The Sunni political leadership in Iraq is living in a fantasy believing that the country’s political situation is being coordinated by representatives of the Trump administration. Consequently, the race is on to secure the coordinators’ approval.
The fact of the matter, though, is that those coordinating the discussions belong to consultative entities working for the American government. Their recommendations are not binding. What is more important is that the officials in charge of the Iraqi file have been replaced by people who subscribe to Trump’s rule regarding the Iraqi and Syrian files: “There is no room for Shia or Sunni political Islam in the new leaderships of Iraq and Syria.”
Despite an official Iraqi government denial, the US military presence in Iraq is significant. Consequently, the United States holds all the keys in Iraq. Other countries with vested interests in Iraq will have to take that into consideration and adjust their strategies accordingly.
The small capitals in the Arabian Gulf looking for a regional role to play must realise that they have no future unless they stop Islamic extremism and blend in within their regional Arab environment. Iran is invited to live peaceably with its neighbours and keep its hands off Arab affairs. More often than not, the unrealistic dreams of the inexperienced end up being crushed by adult realities.