The Kidnapping and Payment of Ransom
A hunting party in southern Iraq was kidnapped in mid-December 2015. The hunters included members of the Qatari royal family. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. According to the Al Jazeera report (see links below), the kidnapping was done by Shi’a militia in the Muthanna region. This is consistent with many other reports. It was not done by a Sunni extremist group, like al Qaeda or ISIL
The ransom deal took 16 months to complete. Release of the Qatari hostages occurred on April 22, 2017. The agreement included the release of 26 Qatari hostages and the safe evacuation of approximately of 2,000 Shi’a residents in four Syrian cities as follows:
The deal was linked the evacuation of thousands of people from four besieged towns in Syria: the northern Syrian villages of Fouaa and Kefraya, which are government-controlled but have been besieged by rebels, and the central villages of Madaya and Zabadani, which were besieged by pro-government forces.
It was reported that the ransom was “up to one billion dollars.”
Who are the Shi’a militias? Per PBS Frontline:
Shia militias reached new heights of power in Iraq in the aftermath of ISIS’s rampage across the country in 2014. As Iraq’s army crumbled and ISIS seized Mosul, the government relied heavily on Shia militias to halt ISIS’s further advance.
Later in the article, it is stated:
Experts say Iraq’s Shia militias fall into three broad categories: those backed by Iran (the largest of the three blocs), those with ties to Iraqi political parties or politicians, and those who consider themselves followers of Sistani and the Shia religious establishment in Iraq. Militias that fall into these last two categories are more likely to be nationalist and wary of Iran.
The groups have little in common, according to experts.
“Their commonality is basically [being] anti-ISIS, and that’s it,” said Renad Mansour, a fellow at Chatham House, an independent policy institute in London. “Once you stop talking about ISIS as an external threat, they actually have a lot of differences amongst each other, ideological, strategic and administrative differences. What brings them together is this fight.”
In answering question of how many fighters do they have, the article states:
It’s hard to say. Estimates have put the number at around 100,000, but because of the informal structure of the militias, it’s impossible to provide a precise number.
“There isn’t a database. It’s not like enlisted soldiers with salary payments, so it’s really hard to tell,” said Mansour. While some militias are well established, others “are really just neighborhood watches and armed groups.”
By comparison, a recent analysis by Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute, puts the strength of Iraq’s security forces in May 2014 at 221,000 — shortly before the army’s collapse in Mosul.
The US has no interest in working with the Shi’a militias as stated by Frontline:
The U.S. government has long maintained that it does not support the militias — and it has even gone so far as to officially label groups such as the Hezbollah Brigades, also known as Kataib Hezbollah, as terrorist organizations. Coalition-supported offensives against ISIS in 2015 and 2016 saw a careful dance with U.S.-led airstrikes trying to stay away from areas where Shia militias were spearheading the assault.
“We do not enable Shia-backed militia at all,” former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told FRONTLINE in August 2016. “We only support and enable forces that are subordinate to Prime Minister [Haider al-Abadi]. This is fundamental, because the hell of Iraq has been sectarian violence.”
Was Qatar by way of making a deal for the release of hostages and payment of ransom, supporting terrorism?
A simple yes or no answer isn’t possible. The central problem is that there are so many extremist groups with different agendas, it is a terrible mistake to lump them into one large international group, capable of doing harm everywhere. The Syrians backed by Iran and Russia, would consider the anti-government rebels fighting Assad as terrorists, in the same group as al Qaeda and ISIL.
We in the US have our own national terrorists, who want to promote their agenda through violence. The neo-Nazi’s groups in the US aren’t about to jump on a plane, and cause trouble in Mali, for example.
It is certain none of the ransom money went to the Sunni based terrorist groups that the US and Europe are focused on: ISIL, al Qaeada, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and the Taliban. In fact, it may be channeled to Shia militia fighting against ISIL or the rebel forces against Bashar Assad in Syria. However, Shi’a along with the revolutionary guard CUDS force of Iran, backing anti-Israel groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah. So, is the enemy of my enemy, may be at times both my enemy and my friend. The Frontline story really needs to be read, to get the all the details.
I am more swayed by the fact that Qatar had no good options as they were trying to get the release of royal family members. It was a life or death situation. Qatar did not intentionally want to support groups with possible ties to Iran or sectarian violence within Iraq. As 2,000 Iraqi’s could be evacuated, the ransom secured more than 26 lives.
In any case, many news articles state the payment of ransom was the last straw for Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries to take action against Qatar. However, I am more convinced that Saudi Arabia saw this as an opportunity in making the case for the other Persian Gulf Sunni-based countries to sever their diplomatic relations with Qatar.
Wikipedia: Qatar in Crisis
Al Jazeera: Qatar Diplomatic Crisis: Latest Updates