The Qatari government has refused an extradition request by Iraq for Tariq al-Hashemi, the Iraqi vice president who is now a fugitive, having fled an arrest warrant.
Hashemi, the top Sunni Muslim politician in Shia-dominated Iraq, is wanted on terror charges and fled to Qatar on Saturday from his refuge in Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq.
According to the Associated Press, Khaled al-Attiyah, Qatar's minister of state for international cooperation, told reporters in Doha: There is no court verdict against [Hashemi]. He came to Qatar from Iraq as the vice president of Iraq and he still holds the title and has [diplomatic] immunity that prevents us from doing such a thing.
Baghdad originally issued the arrest warrant for Hashemi in December, deeping the sectarian divide in Iraq. The government of Nouri al-Maliki accused Hashemi of operating death squads against Shia Muslim pilgrims, as well as government and security forces.
Hashemi has denied such charges, claiming they are motivated by politics given his prominence as a Sunni lawmaker.
Hashemi told reporters in Qatar: Why do they demand that Qatar extradite me? Officials in Kurdistan have responded to a similar request by telling them that I have immunity according to Article 93 [of the Iraqi constitution].”
Qatar, like Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, are overwhelmingly Sunni.
Iraq’s deputy prime minister Hussain al-Shahristani has demanded that Hashemi be returned to Iraq to face trial and characterized Qatar’s refusal to hand him over as “unacceptable.”
Qatar should review its position and send al-Hashemi back to Iraq so that he stands trial, Shahristani told Al Jazeera.
There are larger issues in this imbroglio -- Iraq has relatively good relations with Shia-ruled Iran, a sworn enemy of Sunni Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states.
Indeed, during last week’s Arab League summit in Baghdad, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent low-level officials, instead of their countries’ leaders, as a kind of diplomatic snub.
Iraq and the Gulf States are also quarreling over Syria, which is ruled by the Alawites, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Maliki has criticized Arab nations that want to arm Syrian opposition groups, warning such a thing would lead to civil war in Syria.
Al Jazeera also said that according to Qatari media, Hashemi is scheduled to meet with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani to discuss relations between the two brotherly countries and developments in the region” and will also meet Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, prior to visiting other countries and then returning to Iraqi Kurdistan.