Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan left on Thursday for Qatar, the position of which has recently been rising in Middle Eastern politics, to attend the 13th session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), where it is expected the recent situations in Syria and Iraq will be discussed.
Qatar, in recent months, has adopted a critical stance regarding the Syrian issue. Qatar, a Sunni-ruled monarchy in the Gulf, has supported the idea of arming the opposition against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but Western nations oppose any such action.
Veysel Ayhan, an expert on Syria from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Research (ORSAM), told Today’s Zaman that Qatar is an important actor that has played a significant role in the developments that have taken place in Egypt, Libya and Syria. “Qatar played a leading role in Libya and Egypt, but those countries are not as great a concern for Qatar as Syria and Iraq,” said Ayhan. He underlined that Erdoğan’s presence at the conference is of great importance.
Touching on the Syrian issue, Ayhan stated that the international community, including Turkey, is waiting to see whether Assad will comply with the principles of a peace plan initiated by joint UN-Arab League Syria envoy Kofi Annan. “There may be a request for an increase in the number of [UN] observers in Syria. There may also be a demand for the international community to get more active and, if the UN Security Council fails to act, a regional initiative may be another topic of discussion,” said Ayhan.
Ayhan also highlighted that the Gulf countries want to supply the Syrian opposition arms, but the West is not eager to do so. “At this conference, the Gulf states will try to convince the West to at least agree to the creation of a buffer zone. If the creation of this zone happens, the opposition will settle there and the Gulf states will transfer money and arms directly to them,” said Ayhan.
The Western states have continuously rejected the arming of the opposition out of concern the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has echoed these concerns.
In the recent days, Qatar has also taken a harsh position against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, refusing a request by Iraq to hand over Iraq’s fugitive Sunni vice president, Tariq al Hashemi.
“The strained relations between Iran and the Gulf states, particularly Qatar and Saudi Arabia, determine Iran’s stance regarding the Syrian crisis. Even though it seems Iran is the only side increasing the tension over the Syrian crisis, it is obvious that the Saudi-Qatari side is also intensifying this tension. Firstly, Erdoğan may send a message to the Saudi-Qatari side to ease this tension. Secondly, Erdoğan may underline that the countries in the region may start initiatives and cope with any problems through dialogue with each other. Thirdly, Turkey may recommend the sides adopt an approach that would decrease the Shiite-Sunni tension in the region,” Yasin Aktay, a Turkish sociologist at Selçuk University in Konya, told Today’s Zaman.
Aktay stated that the crisis in the region has three elements: Syria, Iran and Iraq. “There is a political line drawn in the region based on the Shia crescent. Hashemi’s exclusion by al-Maliki is the concrete result of this political line. Iraq’s may be fragmented if the Iraqi crisis continues in this way. Turkey and other countries in the region prefer an integrated Iraq, not a fragmented one,” said Aktay.
Qatar’s acceptance of a visit by Hashemi on April 1 sparked a wave of criticism from Iraq, which denounced Qatar’s actions as “unacceptable.” Qatar protested Baghdad’s treatment of Iraq’s Sunni minority by sending a low-level representative to an Arab League summit hosted by Iraq last month.
Qatar’s prime minister said that his nation is sending Baghdad a “message” by its low-level representation, criticizing what he said was the marginalization by the country’s Shiite-led government of its Sunni Arab minority, reported the Associated Press.
The strained relations are also linked to Baghdad’s close ties with Iran and its ambivalent stand on Syria’s yearlong conflict, AP also reported.
Aktay also underlined that Maliki’s policies, which are supported by Iran, are directly linked to the Syrian crisis. He added that Iran is the country most eager to stand behind the Assad regime.