Qatar slams Iraq's 'unofficial dealing with kidnappers' claims
Qatar regularly consulted with Iraqi officials during the tense negotiations with kidnappers, it claimed, in the first official statement made by the normally secretive government in Doha since the release last week.
"The negotiations to free them proceeded with the full knowledge of the Iraqi government, whose representatives were regularly briefed and updated by Qatari officials," a statement from Qatar's government communications office said, adding "we are thankful that the Qatari nationals are home safe."
In December 2015, 24 Qataris – allegedly including prominent members of the royal family – and two Saudis were kidnapped and held hostage in Iraq after crossing the borders for a hunting trip.
But Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-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?"
The hunting party was released last week without word from the Iraqi interior ministry or any other official on who or which group was responsible for the kidnapping, and the terms of the release have not been revealed.
However, sources close to the negotiations told AFP 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 rebel groups in Syria, including the former al-Qaeda affiliate now known as Fateh al-Sham Front – a group that besieged government-controlled villages.