Qatar said Wednesday that the deal to secure the recent release of a hunting party kidnapped in southern Iraq went ahead with the “full knowledge” of Baghdad.
Responding to a complaint by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that ransom money was brought into Iraq without its approval, the emirate said it had regularly consulted with officials in Baghdad during the tense negotiations.
It was the first official statement made by the normally secretive government in Doha since the release last week of the 24 Qataris and two Saudis held hostage since December 2015.
“We are thankful that the Qatari nationals are home safe,” said the statement from Qatar’s government communications office.
“The negotiations to free them proceeded with the full knowledge of the Iraqi government, whose representatives were regularly briefed and updated by Qatari officials.”
Abadi told a news conference on Tuesday that Qatari negotiators had landed in Baghdad with “hundreds of millions of dollars” in ransom money before the hostages were freed.
“The Qatari government sent its envoy to Iraq and asked to bring a private plane,” Abadi said.
“We were surprised that there were big bags, so we seized them and they contained hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said.
“This money was brought in without the approval of the Iraqi government,” he said.
Abadi also questioned where the money was heading.
“Hundreds of millions to armed groups? Is this acceptable?”
No group has accepted responsibility for the kidnapping.The terms of the release have not been revealed.
Sources close to the negotiations have told AFP however that their release was part of a broad regional deal between Iran and Qatar involving the evacuation of residents from besieged towns in northern Syria.
Qatar has long been thought to have influence with some Sunni rebel groups in Syria, including the former Al-Qaeda affiliate now known as Fateh al-Sham Front that besieged government-controlled villages.