Iraq's top cleric calls for Qatari hostages' immediate release

Iraq's top cleric calls for Qatari hostages' immediate release
In unprecedented strong remarks, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for the immediate release of Qatari hunters kidnapped in Iraq in mid-December, describing the kidnappers as criminal and undisciplined gangs.
2 min read
25 December, 2015
Iraqi militias were formed to fight IS, but they are accused of many violations [AFP]
Iraq's top Shia Muslim cleric Ali al-Sistani called on Friday for the release of the Qatari hunting party kidnapped in Iraq in mid-December, and denounced what he described as "undisciplined criminal gangs" for kidnapping and robbing Iraqis and foreigners.

The remarks were contained in a statement read by Sistani's representative in Karbala Ahmed al-Safi during the Friday sermon. Safi said the incident harmed the reputation of the country.

"In these difficult circumtances where the security services are preoccupied with the fight against terrorist groups...criminal gangs have engaged in kidnapping, robbery and murder," posing further risks to Iraq's stability, Safi said on behalf of Sistani.

Sistani's remarks mark the first time the cleric has criticised militias in Iraq since he issued a fatwa sanctioning the creation of the Shia Popular Mobilisation militias, which have been accused of carrying out wide-scale kidnappings in Iraq.

On December 16, gunmen travelling in a large convoy kidnapped Qatari hunters in Muthanna governorate of Iraq.

There has been no new information regarding the fate of the hostages or the identity of the kidnappers.

Qatar's official news agency QNA earlier said Qatar's Interior Minister Sheikh Abadllah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani had telephoned Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi to discuss developments in the case.

QNA said the Qatari official expressed his gratitude for the Iraqi government's efforts in following up the matter, and hoped this would lead to their release soon.

Doha has sent Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abdullah al-Rumaihi to assist Qatar's ambassador in Baghdad in liaising with the Iraqi government to secure the hostages' release.