U.S.-Qatar Alliance Strains Coalition Against Islamic State

| October 10, 2014

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Washington’s Allies Say Emirate’s Ties to Militant and Islamist Groups are a Problem

U.S.-Qatar Alliance Strains Coalition Against Islamic State

Wall Street Journal | October 10, 2014

By JAY SOLOMON

WASHINGTON—The Obama administration’s alliance with Qatar is shaking the international coalition against extremist group Islamic State, according to U.S. and Arab officials who say the Gulf emirate’s ties to powerful militant and Islamist groups in the Middle East are a problem.

Qatar’s links with the main al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Nusra Front, as well as with Hamas and the Taliban in Afghanistan, are heightening concerns in Washington and Arab capitals about the long-term intentions of the monarchy.

Diplomats from Washington’s closest Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, have been warning the White House that Qatar is playing a double game in the region—publicly supporting U.S. policies while aiding its enemies. These countries have been pressing Washington to more forcefully reprimand Doha over those relationships.

Qatar is a critical cog in the latest U.S.-led Middle East war. It hosts the al-Udeid Air Base from where the Pentagon is launching many of its bombing strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.

Qatar is one of five Arab countries formally taking part in the American-led coalition. Its air force has provided surveillance and logistical support for the ongoing attacks on Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The U.S. Treasury also has increasingly voiced concerns about the alleged flow of Qatari money to Mideast militants, including Islamic State, Nusra Front and al Qaeda.

The concerns about support from within Qatar for the extremists comes on top of a deepening split among Washington’s key Middle Eastern allies over the role of political Islam in the region, whether in Libya, Syria or the Palestinian territories.

The division largely pits Qatar and Turkey, vocal supporters of Islamist movements, against traditional Arab monarchies in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Amman.

The White House’s Arab allies are warning the coalition fighting Islamic State risks fracturing unless all of its members commit equally to taking the necessary steps to combat the terrorist organization, primarily by ensuring that financial and diplomatic ties to extremist groups are cut.

“There must be a zero-tolerance policy” for the support of extremism, Jordan’s King Abdullah told a United Nations Security Council meeting convened last month by the U.S. to coordinate the fight against Islamic State. Arab diplomats said the monarch’s message was directed at Qatar and Turkey.

The Obama administration hasn’t publicly charged Qatar’s government of directly making these payments, but rather says it has been lax in regulating the finances of Qatari nationals, charities and Islamic organizations.

Treasury officials allege one wealthy Qatari businessman late last year transferred $2 million to a senior Islamic State commander in Syria who was in charge of recruiting foreign fighters.

Washington’s allies also are concerned that, while Qatar has flown its planes as surveillance in bombing runs, it hasn’t conducted airstrikes on extremist positions.

Qatari officials declined requests to discuss the Treasury Department’s and Arab governments’ allegations. But the country’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and its foreign minister have repeatedly denied any financial ties to Islamic State or other terrorist groups, while stressing Doha would continue to pursue an independent and activist foreign policy.

“Qatar can only follow a foreign policy that is independent of outside influence and this is something we are proud of,” Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiya said in a speech at Princeton University late last month. “Often times, heavy criticism is the price that must be paid for taking a firm position on your beliefs.”

The Obama administration has made Doha one of its closest diplomatic partners in navigating the turmoil that has spread across the Mideast since the Arab Spring revolutions erupted in late 2010.

During this time, the White House has used Qatar as a primary conduit to communicate with the very militant and extremist groups the U.S. has sought to weaken through its military, financial and diplomatic policies.

U.S. officials credit Doha with securing the release in May of the American army officer, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, whom the Taliban captured five years earlier. Qatar also brokered the August release of an American journalist, Peter Theo Curtis, kidnapped in Syria by Nusra Front.

Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, repeatedly used Mr. Attiya this summer as a diplomatic channel through which to negotiate a cease-fire agreement with Hamas that was aimed at ending the Palestinian group’s war with Israel.

Israeli, Egyptian and Saudi officials opposed the State Department’s reliance on Doha, arguing it would only embolden Qatar to bolster its ties to organizations designated as terrorist entities by the U.S. But State Department officials argued Qatar and Turkey were the only nations with the financial and diplomatic leverage to pressure Hamas into make concessions.

“This particular effort now has been significantly assisted by the input of Qatar, the input of Turkey, and the willingness of these foreign ministers to engage directly with some of the Palestinian factions,” Mr. Kerry said in a July press appearance with Mr. Attiya and Turkey’s then-foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, in Paris.

Mr. Kerry’s words hinted at divisions within the Obama administration about its approach to Qatar and Hamas.

The U.S. Treasury Department has repeatedly, and publicly, criticized Qatar for financing Hamas. Current and former U.S. officials said Washington’s ability to eliminate this support is undercut by the Obama administration’s diplomatic reliance on Doha.

“American diplomacy has seen utility in having an ally who brokers with the bad guys when necessary,” said Juan Zarate, a senior White House and Treasury official in the George W. Bush administration. “This is one of the assets the Qataris play.”

The Treasury Department in recent weeks has continued to publicly air allegations of financial ties between Qatari interests and many of the Mideast’s major terrorist and extremist groups.

Last month, Treasury sanctioned a Tunisian Islamic State leader who allegedly was facilitating the flow of foreign fighters into Syria with the support of Qatari money. Treasury said in its designation of Tariq Tahri Falih al-Awni al-Harzi that he had allegedly channeled roughly $2 million to Islamic State in September 2013 from a Qatar-based financier.

“The Qatar-based ISIL financial facilitator also enlisted Al-Harzi’s assistance with fundraising efforts in Qatar,” Treasury said. It added that the money raised needed to be used “for military operations only.”

Treasury also sanctioned two Jordanian nationals, who carried Qatari identification papers, for allegedly working with a former Qatari central bank official to raise funds for al Qaeda in Pakistan and Iraq in recent years.

The Qatari man, Khalifa Muhammad Turki al-Subaiy, was sanctioned by the U.S. and United Nations in 2008 for terrorist financing and allegedly being an associate of the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Qatar’s government detained the man for around six months before releasing him, according to U.S. officials.

Current and former U.S. officials said they believe Qatar has been seeking to improve its ability to track and crack down on any funding of extremist groups from the country. But they also said that significantly more needs to be done.

“The designations are an attempt by Treasury to deal with Qatari funding,” said Mr. Zarate. “They wanted to reveal what they knew about money transfers.”

Link to Original Article: http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-qatar-alliance-strains-coalition-against-islamic-state-1412983181

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Category: Global Order, Middle East

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