Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Saudi Arabia delivering on threat to help Sunnis in Iraq

The censure against Iraq's neighbors' role in providing gateways for foreign fighters and weapons to come into Iraq has been directed almost exclusively at Iran and Syria. But Saudi Arabia is in the game, too, and likely has been for some time:
Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.
The Saudis are delivering on a promise they made late last November. Writing in the Washington Post, senior security adviser to Saudi Arabia said his government was considering three options:
• providing Sunni military leaders (ex-Iraqi officer corps, now the backbone of the insurgency) with funding and arms.
• establishing new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
• choking off Iran's ability to fund the militias by flooding the oil market.
The first two are already occurring. Obaid's tone indicated the kingdom's seriousness in writing that "Saudi Arabia will intervene to prevent Iranian-backed Shiite militias from massacring Iraqi Sunni Muslims once the United States begins pulling out of Iraq."

The royal family has historically been keen on providing indirect support through transporting weapons and bankrolling groups engaged in the actual fighting, rather than assuming a direct role. This was the case during the Soviet War in Afghanistan and the coming to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But the situation in Iraq hits close to home. Prior to the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq used to be the Muslim world's Sunni-Shia faultline. By knocking out the Baathists, the Shia majority, backed by Iran, has steadily been increasing its control of Iraq. And so the line has shifted westward, perhaps inside of Saudi Arabia, along the oil-rich Persian Gulf coast, home to many of the kingdom's minority Shias.

It's little wonder that Saudi Arabia is attempting to undermine Shia dominance in Iraq:
During a high-level meeting in Riyadh in January, Saudi officials confronted a top American envoy with documents that seemed to suggest that Iraq’s prime minister could not be trusted.

One purported to be an early alert from the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr warning him to lie low during the coming American troop increase, which was aimed in part at Mr. Sadr’s militia. Another document purported to offer proof that Mr. Maliki was an agent of Iran.
The vulpine King Abdullah scoffed at US envoy Khalizad's protestations about the evidence of a strong tie between Iraq PM al-Maliki and Muqtada al-Sadr, which the US believes to be forged. I wouldn't doubt that it was. It doesn't really matter, though, as Saudi Arabia is intent on shoring up support for Sunnis in Iraq in any case:
Saudi Arabia months ago made a pitch to enlist other Persian Gulf countries to take a direct role in supporting Sunni tribal groups in Iraq, said one former American ambassador with close ties to officials in the Middle East. The former ambassador, Edward W. Gnehm, who has served in Kuwait and Jordan, said that during a recent trip to the region he was told that Saudi Arabia had pressed other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — which includes Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman — to give financial support to Sunnis in Iraq. The Saudis made this effort last December, Mr. Gnehm said.

The foundations for a proxy war between the Sunni Middle East and Shiites in Iraq and Iran are being laid. The US troop increase is merely delaying the conflict from its inevitable explosion into the open. The Iraqi parliament has just begun a month-long vacation, ostensibly oblivious to the US' sense of urgency in getting the federal government to 'stand up'. In reality, the Shia-dominated parliament is happy to see the US leave anytime now, so the real power consolidation can begin.

While complaining about Saudi Arabia's increasing influence in Iraq, we're giving them the goods to combat Iran on the very same battlefield of Iraq:
The United States on Monday announced military aid packages worth more than $43 billion for Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in an effort to bolster Mideast allies against Iran and others.
If it weren't the US government dealing with Middle Eastern power politics, I'd be stultified.

The war in Iraq has been disastrous. Iran, our putative arch-antagonist in the region, has benefitted more than any other country from our actions. The execution of the man who slaughtered half a million Iranians in the eighties and the removal of the Saudi-supported, Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan eradicated the pincered position Iran had been in. Unease over security in oil production and sub-optimal outputs in Iraq following the American invasion provided Persia with greater oil revenues than it'd enjoyed in decades.

We have to get out of the Middle East. The British and the French both had to before us. We should, in exiting, work to guarantee that no other power feels compelled to get sucked into the desert miasma by working to separate the West from the Islamic world as thoroughly as is possible.


dave in boca said...

According to Ralph Peters & John Burns, among others, the Sunni tribal chiefs in Iraq are now opposed violently to Al Qaeda, due to numerous stupidities of a Taliban-like nature, but perhaps we can surmise that Saudi money has turned them against the terrorist insurgents also?

Once upon a time, I was Political/Military Officer in the US Embassy in Saudi, and I can understand why we would want to have the Saudis continue to use our military weaponry & systems rather than the Russians', as Iran is opting for.

It's the old conundrum whether to dine with the devil or let someone else dine with him. And the Saudis are actually on our side in the broadest scheme of things, grosso modo, and we should keep them on our side.

I could go on, as I spent three-plus years working to examine our bilateral relationship. It is a very tangled sort of web. Case in point: the sanctimonious Carter Administration refused to sell the Shah rubber bullets and other 'humane' anti-riot equipment. Result: 400 students killed in riots by the Shah's cops, which led the bazaari middle class to repudiate him and switch allegiance to the mullahs, with disastrous consequences.

Mutatis mutandis, it could happen again.

Audacious Epigone said...


I'm always hesitant to post on Middle Eastern politics, because they're so tangled. I'm chained down, trying to make sense of the shadows on the wall. In this case, it seems that we are censuring the Saudis on the one hand while funding them on the other. Then again, that's not that unusual.

Incidentally, to other readers, Dave has brushed shoulders with a countless number of important players in the world, and his blog lets you in on some of that.

Anonymous said...

"The United States on Monday announced military aid packages worth more than $43 billion for Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in an effort to bolster Mideast allies against Iran and others..."


If that asshole is angry about it, then it must be a good idea. Double the weapons deal!

Audacious Epigone said...


That link is broken. Who is it specifically that is upset? Schumer?

Anonymous said...

Ahmadinejad is the asshole who is pissed about the deal. If you go to Yahoo world news, you can find the story.
Like I said, if the Iranians (or the NYT) are against something, it must be a good thing for the US. We should sell the Sunni muslims the goods to kill the Shiites with while making some good money.