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Iraqi PM accuses Saudi, Qatar of funding violence in Anbar

Al-Maliki accused the two countries of funding Sunni Muslim insurgents his troops are battling in Anbar

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of openly funding the Sunni Muslim insurgents his troops are battling in western Anbar province, in his strongest such statement since fighting started there early this year.

In an interview on France 24 TV Saturday evening, the Shiite premiere, who has ruled Iraq since 2006, said that the two countries were “attacking Iraq indirectly via Syria,” adding, they have “declared war” against Iraq the same way they did against Syria, on “sectarian and political grounds.”

Al-Maliki's remarks play to Iraqi fears of the Sunni Arab states as he tries to burnish his standing as a defender of the mainly Shi'ite country before elections at the end of April.

The Iraqi leader also blamed both countries for launching Syria's three-year civil war through al-Qaeda-linked groups that now operate on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian border, next to Anbar.

Maliki has long had chilly relations with the Gulf states, who view him as too close to Iran, and has long suspected them of funding al-Qaeda-linked groups in order to bring down his Shi'ite-led government.

Surge in violence

Security forces have been fighting insurgents from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Anbar's two main cities - Fallujah and Ramadi - since January after the arrest of a Sunni lawmaker and the clearing of an anti-government protest camp prompted a tribal revolt and allowed ISIL to set up fighting positions in the cities.

Violence has escalated in the last 12 months - ISIL has led a devastating campaign of suicide bombings since mid-2013 - and Maliki said in a mid-February speech that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were offering money to recruit fighters in Fallujah.

More than 700 people died in violence in Iraq in February, not including nearly 300 reported deaths in western Anbar province and last year was the deadliest year since 2008 with nearly 8,000 being killed.

A Saudi reaction

Reacting to al-Maliki’s statements, former Saudi Shoura Council member Mohammad Al-Zalfa called the Iraqi PM’s accusations “naïve.”

Speaking to Al-Hadath channel, Zalfa said: “Speaking about Saudi’s involvement in terror acts in Iraq by using cars with Saudi plate numbers is a naïve scenario nobody can imagine,” adding that Saudi declared a war on terrorism many years ago.

The former Shoura Council member said that al-Maliki’s accusations are an attempt to distract from the real problems of Iraq and that a third term for the PM would be “disastrous” for the country.

Zalfa stated that the Iraqi leader’s “unfounded sectarian talk” will harm Iraq’s interests and stability in the region.

He also shot back his own accusations, claiming that al-Maliki had financed terror acts in Bahrain.

(With Reuters)