Qatar on Tuesday rejected Iraq's request to hand over the nation's fugitive Sunni vice president to face terror charges in Baghdad, a decision that will likely further strain ties between Shiite-led Iraq and Sunni Gulf Arab states.
On Monday, Iraq asked Qatar to extradite Tariq al-Hashemi, the top Sunni official in Iraq's Shiite-dominated government. Iraqi authorities issued a warrant for his arrest in December, triggering a political crisis in Baghdad and deepening the country's sectarian divide just days after the U.S. military withdrawal.
Khaled al-Attiyah, Qatar's minister of state for international cooperation, told reporters in Qatar that the Gulf nation will not hand al-Hashemi over to Baghdad because such a move would be contrary to diplomatic protocol.
"There is no court verdict against him," al-Attiyah told reporters in the Qatari capital, Doha. "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."
Al-Hashemi arrived in Qatar on Sunday. It's his first foreign trip since he fled to Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region in December to avoid arrest by Baghdad authorities who accused him of running death squads against Shiite pilgrims, government officials and security forces.
He denies the charges, which he says are politically motivated.
Iraq's deputy prime minister Hussain al-Shahristani called on Qatar on Monday to hand over al-Hashemi to stand trial in Baghdad, and criticized the Gulf nation's Sunni rulers' for hosting al-Hashemi.
Qatar has criticized what it calls the marginalization of Iraqi Sunnis. The strained relations are also linked to Baghdad's close ties with Iran and its ambivalent stand on Syria's yearlong conflict.
The frosty relations were on display at an Arab League summit hosted by Iraq last week. The rulers of Sunni-led Gulf states, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, snubbed Iraq by sending lower-level officials in their place.
Iraq has been at loggerheads with Qatar and Gulf heavyweight Saudi Arabia over the crisis in Syria. Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, launched a thinly veiled attack on both nations during a news conference on Sunday in Baghdad, saying their desire to arm Syrian rebels would deepen the conflict there.
In a column published in Tuesday's Saudi-owned, pan-Arab Al-Sharq al-Awsat, editor-in chief Tariq al-Hamid criticized al-Maliki's comments, saying that the prime minister's "behavior on Syria shows that there is no way that we can trust the current government in Baghdad."
"Only three days after the end of Baghdad summit, al-Maliki is turning now against Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This is a clear act of deception," al-Hamid said.
Associated Press writer Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad contributed to this report.
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