April 29, 2018
Leaked text documents and messages confirmed that Qatar paid over a billion dollars to extremist Shi’ite militias in Syria and Iraq, said a Washington Post report on Saturday.
“The Syrians, ‘Hezbollah’-Lebanon, the Iraqi Hezbollah– all want money, and this is their chance,” Zayed bin Saeed al-Khayareen, Qatar’s ambassador to Iraq and chief negotiator in the hostage affair, wrote in a message. “All of them are thieves.”
The message was sent last year in wake of the abduction of 25 Qatari citizens by Iraqi kidnappers. Qatar had kicked off secret talks to ensure their release. The bargaining however turned into a kind of group shakedown, the official said, with a half-dozen militias and foreign governments jostling to squeeze cash from Doha.
Confidential documents confirmed that Qatar indeed paid these extremist Iran-backed groups, including the Lebanese “Hezbollah” and Iraqi Hezbollah.
After much fretting and grousing, Qatari officials consented to payments totaling at least $275 million to free nine members of the royal family and 16 other Qatari nationals kidnapped during a hunting trip in southern Iraq, according to copies of the intercepted communications obtained by The Washington Post.
The secret records reveal for the first time that the payment plan allocated an additional $150 million in cash for individuals and groups acting as intermediaries, although they have long been regarded by US officials as sponsors of international terrorism. These include Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iraqi Hezbollah, a group linked to numerous lethal attacks on American troops during the Iraq War, the records show.
The payments were part of a larger deal that would involve the Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish governments, as well as Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” and at least two Syrian opposition groups, including the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front, reported the Post.
The total sum demanded for the return of the hostages at times climbed as high as $1 billion, although it is not clear from the documents exactly how much money ultimately changed hands.
Qatar, which acknowledged receiving help from multiple countries in securing the hostages’ release last year, has consistently denied reports that it paid terrorist organizations as part of the deal.
The leaked documents show senior Qatari diplomats appearing to sign off on a series of side payments ranging from $5 to $50 million to Iranian and Iraqi officials and paramilitary leaders, with $25 million earmarked for an Iraqi Hezbollah boss and $50 million set aside for “Qassem,” an apparent reference to Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a key participant in the hostage deal.
The text exchanges are part of a trove of private communications about the hostage ordeal that were surreptitiously recorded by a foreign government and provided to The Post.
The intercepted communications also include cellphone conversations and voice-mail messages in Arabic that were played for Post reporters for authentication purposes, on the condition that the name of the foreign government that provided the materials not be revealed.