KUWAIT (Reuters) - Iraq's foreign minister denied on Tuesday that his government had anything to do with the kidnapping of a group of Qatari hunters in the south of the country this month.
A large group of unidentified armed men abducted at least 26 Qataris from their desert hunting camp near the Saudi border last week. At least nine people who were part of the hunting group managed to escape and crossed into Kuwait.
"I deny categorically that this issue (of the kidnapping) has any relation to the Iraqi government," Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told reporters at a news conference with his Kuwaiti counterpart in Kuwait.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Qatar is a member, described the abduction as "an action that harms the bonds of brotherly relations between Arab brothers," state media in another member, Saudi Arabia, reported on Tuesday.
Qatar has repeatedly said that its nationals had crossed into Iraqi territory with an official permit from the Iraqi interior ministry.
There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the abduction which took place in a desolate expanse where a number of armed militia operate.
"Not everything that exists on the ground (in Iraq) is there with the approval of the government .... there are security flaws that we must acknowledge and our enemies exploited the security shortcomings," Jaafari said.
Hunters from rich Gulf states often make trips to Iraq's southern desert at this time of year in search of rare prey. The Houbara bustard, a large, fast bird, which lives throughout the Middle East has been hunted to the point of extinction in Qatar.
The Iraqi desert is said to be one of the best remaining hunting grounds for the bird.
(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)