Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"How a Ransom for Royal Falconers Reshaped the Middle East"

NYT:

A week later, the money still impounded, the Qatari team left Baghdad in the same jet that had brought them. They were now accompanied by two dozen Qataris, including members of the ruling Al Thani family, who had been kidnapped during a hunting trip in southern Iraq 16 months earlier. The story of what happened on that trip has not been reported until now. It entails a ransom deal of staggering size and complexity in which the Qataris paid vast sums to terrorists on both sides of the Middle East’s sectarian divide, fueling the region’s spiraling civil wars.

The cost to Qatar wound up far exceeding $360 million, but ultimately cash was less important than the deal’s political dimension. In order to retrieve its hostages, Qatar was made to negotiate a tightly choreographed population exchange in Syria, using the rebel militias it finances to forcibly uproot every resident of four strategically located towns. The transfers advanced Tehran’s larger goal of transforming Syria — along with Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen — into satellite states that will enshrine a dominant Iranian role across the region. The deal was a blow for the Trump administration’s goal of pushing back against Iranian aggression, and for thousands of starving Syrians, it meant being driven into exile by a shadowy agreement, with little say from Syria’s own government. What began as a brazen kidnapping eventually became a measure of the geopolitical forces tearing the Middle East apart, and of their human cost: corruption, sectarian hatred and terrorism. Everyone involved had something to hide — except, perhaps, the hapless hunters who set it all in motion.