Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mahdi Army Meets Peninsula Shield

Fresh off the rumors out of Israel last week that the Hamas political leadership may relocate to Qatar, we hear today of another interesting visit to Doha with wide geopolitical implications: that of S. Muqtada al-Sadr, who is said to be there as a guest of the Emir to discuss the American withdrawal from Iraq, bilateral and regional relations, and, more interestingly, "the situation in Bahrain." Al-Sadr's aides have denied reports that he will travel to Bahrain after the visit, which is probably better for everybody. (Incidentally, the Economist only two days ago ran a now-timely article titled "Muqtada al-Sadr, back in business.")

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have long championed either side of the intra-Palestinian conflict, with Al-Jazeera known to project a pro-Hamas line and Al-Arabiyyah a pro-Fatah one. And Qatar's desire to play conference-holder and peacemaker -- in Yemen, in Libya, et al. -- is no secret. Yet even so the visit of Al-Sadr, who apart from Al-Sistani is the face of Iraqi Shi'ism even while lacking the status of marja', must be rustling some feathers this morning in Riyadh and of course in al-Riffa'.

Indeed, while there is nary a peep about the visit on Bahrain's main Shi'a opposition forums, the story and resulting discussion thread is already atop the list on the main pro-government site, with commentators mostly asking rhetorically how fellow GCC pal Qatar could do such a thing.

The first comment, for example: "A smart plan from Iran to provoke a conflict between the Gulf countries. / Unfortunately the Emir is the ass that allows it to happen. / The Qatari people and tribes unfortunately don't get involved in politics."

The second: "A slap in the face to the [Muslim] brothers in Qatar. How can they bring in some slob like this rafidi and talk with him about Bahrain??? This is strange and mysterious from Qatar??? And it begs the question what is the policy of Qatar?????

The third: "Honestly, Qatar's policy is with Iran and Iraq."

And so on. In fact, there are already 4 pages of some 50+ comments in less than 2 hours.

We have already seen Kuwait pushed back into line by the other GCC states (i.e., by Bahrain and Saudi Arabia) for its initial refusal to contribute to the Peninsula Shield force. Is Qatar next on the chopping block? or has its clout increased enough now to resist even the combined pressure of Bahraini Arabia?

Update: according to Bloomberg, al-Sadr's website is now reporting that the Qatari emir "has promised to mediate a solution to the crisis in Bahrain and that he would personally meet with Arab presidents and kings to resolve this crisis." That will be an interesting conversation with King 'Abdallah.

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