Saudis Stepping Into Iraq
- Saudi Arabia Will Protect Sunnis if the U.S. Leaves
By Nawaf Obaid
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
In February 2003, a month before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the
Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, warned President Bush
that he would be "solving one problem and creating five more" if he
removed Saddam Hussein by force. Had Bush heeded his advice, Iraq
would not now be on the brink of full-blown civil war and disintegration.
One hopes he won't make the same mistake again by ignoring the counsel
of Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki
al-Faisal, who said in a speech last month that "since America came
into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited." If it does,
one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to
stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.
Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to
protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence
there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the
leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have
petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons
and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is
intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close
historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are
demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi
royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the
kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.
Because King Abdullah has been working to minimize sectarian tensions
in Iraq and reconcile Sunni and Shiite communities, because he gave
President Bush his word that he wouldn't meddle in Iraq (and because
it would be impossible to ensure that Saudi-funded militias wouldn't
attack U.S. troops), these requests have all been refused. They will,
however, be heeded if American troops begin a phased withdrawal from
Iraq. As the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, the birthplace of
Islam and the de facto leader of the world's Sunni community (which
comprises 85 percent of all Muslims), Saudi Arabia has both the means
and the religious responsibility to intervene.
Just a few months ago it was unthinkable that President Bush would
prematurely withdraw a significant number of American troops from
Iraq. But it seems possible today, and therefore the Saudi leadership
is preparing to substantially revise its Iraq policy. Options now
include providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baathist
members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of
the insurgency) with the same types of assistance -- funding, arms and
logistical support -- that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups
Another possibility includes the establishment of new Sunni brigades
to combat the Iranian-backed militias. Finally, Abdullah may decide to
strangle Iranian funding of the militias through oil policy. If Saudi
Arabia boosted production and cut the price of oil in half, the
kingdom could still finance its current spending. But it would be
devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with
today's high prices. The result would be to limit Tehran's ability to
continue funneling hundreds of millions each year to Shiite militias
in Iraq and elsewhere.
Both the Sunni insurgents and the Shiite death squads are to blame for
the current bloodshed in Iraq. But while both sides share
responsibility, Iraqi Shiites don't run the risk of being exterminated
in a civil war, which the Sunnis clearly do. Since approximately 65
percent of Iraq's population is Shiite, the Sunni Arabs, who make up a
mere 15 to 20 percent, would have a hard time surviving any full-blown
ethnic cleansing campaign.
What's clear is that the Iraqi government won't be able to protect the
Sunnis from Iranian-backed militias if American troops leave. Its army
and police cannot be relied on to do so, as tens of thousands of
Shiite militiamen have infiltrated their ranks. Worse, Iraq's prime
minister, Nouri al-Maliki, cannot do anything about this, because he
depends on the backing of two major leaders of Shiite forces.
There is reason to believe that the Bush administration, despite
domestic pressure, will heed Saudi Arabia's advice. Vice President
Cheney's visit to Riyadh last week to discuss the situation (there
were no other stops on his marathon journey) underlines the
preeminence of Saudi Arabia in the region and its importance to U.S.
strategy in Iraq. But if a phased troop withdrawal does begin, the
violence will escalate dramatically.
In this case, remaining on the sidelines would be unacceptable to
Saudi Arabia. To turn a blind eye to the massacre of Iraqi Sunnis
would be to abandon the principles upon which the kingdom was founded.
It would undermine Saudi Arabia's credibility in the Sunni world and
would be a capitulation to Iran's militarist actions in the region.
To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks -- it could
spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far
The writer, an adviser to the Saudi government, is managing director
of the Saudi National Security Assessment Project in Riyadh and an
adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
in Washington. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not
reflect official Saudi policy
Saudi 'will step in if US quits Iraq'
30th November 2006
WASHINGTON: Saudi Arabia will launch a "massive" intervention to help
Iraq's minority Sunnis against Iran-backed Shi'ite attacks if the US
pulls its troops out, a senior Saudi government adviser said
yesterday. Writing in the Washington Post newspaper, security expert
Nawaf Obaid said the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq could result in
King Abdullah opening the gates to provide Iraq's Sunnis with funds,
arms and logistical support.
Obaid, a scholar at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies
in Washington and a security and energy adviser to the Saudi
ambassador to the US, said King Abdullah has fended off "intense"
pressure to provide financial and arms support for Iraq's Sunnis from
Sunni leaders inside Saudi Arabia and around the Middle East.
Also pushing the monarch, he said, are "a new generation of Saudi
royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the
kingdom play a more muscular role in the region".
But Obaid said that King Abdullah pledged to US President George W
Bush that he would not intervene, despite the rise in bloody sectarian
reprisal killings. However, that would change if the US begins pulling
its troops out, Obaid warned.
Obaid's article, which he said reflected his own views and not the
Saudi government's, came just days after US Vice-President Dick Cheney
Iraq violence strains US-Saudi relations
Gulf Daily News
by Sylvie Lanteaume
WASHINGTON, Nov 29, 2006 (AFP) - The deteriorating situation in Iraq
has put a strain on Washington's relations with Saudi Arabia, a top
Middle East ally seeking greater US involvement in the region to
counter Iran's influence.
An advisor to the Sunni-dominated Saudi kingdom warned Wednesday that
if US troops withdraw from Iraq, Riyadh could arm Iraq's Sunni
minority in the face of similar aid from Iran to Iraqi Shiites.
A top aid to President George W. Bush, meanwhile, reportedly
recommended that the administration pressure Saudi Arabia into using
its influence to convince Sunnis to stop resorting to violence.
Nawaf Obaid, a security advisor to the Saudi ambassador in the United
States, wrote in a Washington Post column that a US pullout from Iraq
would lead to "massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed
Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis."
"Options now include providing Sunni military leaders ... with the
same types of assistance -- funding, arms and logistical support --
that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years," wrote Obaid.
"To turn a blind eye to the massacre of Iraqi Sunnis would be to
abandon the principles upon which the kingdom was founded. It would
undermine Saudi Arabia's credibility in the Sunni world and would be a
capitulation to Iran's militarist actions in the region," he wrote.
Obaid said Saudi King Abdullah has fended off "intense" pressure to
provide financial and arms support for Iraq's Sunnis from Sunni
leaders inside Saudi Arabia and around the Middle East.
But Obaid said Abdullah pledged to Bush that he would not intervene,
despite the rise in bloody sectarian reprisal killings between Iraq's
majority Shiites and Sunnis, in what some describe as a civil war.
Bush has so far rejected mounting calls for a troop withdrawal from Iraq.
Obaid's column, which he said reflected his own views and not the
Saudi government's, appeared as Bush was in Amman to meet with Iraqi
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to discuss Iraq's sectarian violence.
The meeting was postponed from Wednesday to Thursday.
It also came just days after US Vice President Dick Cheney flew to
Riyadh to consult with the Saudi ruler on Iraq.
Little information has leaked from Cheney's meeting with the king, but
Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation think
tank, said Obaid's article likely indicated the message conveyed by
"Obaid is a personal national security advisor to Saudi Ambassador to
the US Prince Turki al-Faisal and what he is writing is no doubt the
public version of what King Abdullah told Cheney when the VP was
summoned to Riyadh," Clemons wrote in his Internet blog, "The
The United States may also press Saudi Arabia on Iraq.
Bush's national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, wrote in a
memorandum on Iraq quoted by The New York Times that the United States
should "step up efforts to get Saudi Arabia to take a leadership role
in supporting Iraq by using its influence to move Sunni populations
out of violence into politics."
The administration could connect "this role with other areas in which
Saudi Arabia wants to see US action," Hadley's November 8 memo said,
suggesting that Washington could link its involvement in the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Saudi engagement in Iraq.
Saudi Arabia, usually discreet about its private discussions with US
officials, has also begun showing signs of impatience toward US
diplomacy in the Middle East.
The Saudi government urged the United States on Monday to pursue fair
and stabilizing policies in the conflict-ridden region.
US influence should be used in a manner "compatible with the realities
of the region and its historic balances" and "supportive of its
stability," said a statement carried by the state SPA news agency.
Washington should "seek equitable ways of helping end the conflicts"
of the area, it added.
Saudi Arabia also said "it was time to take seriously the call for an
international conference" to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,
which Riyadh has repeatedly made in recent weeks.
Bush agrees to speedy turnover in Iraq
By DEB RIECHMANN
President Bush said Thursday the United States will speed a turnover
of security responsibility to Iraqi forces but assured Prime Minister
Nouri al-Maliki that Washington is not looking for a "graceful exit"
from a war well into its fourth violent year.
Under intensifying political pressure at home, the American and Iraqi
leaders came together for a hastily arranged summit to explore how to
stop escalating violence that is tearing Iraq apart and eroding
support for Bush's war strategy.
With Bush hoping to strengthen his Iraqi counterpart's fragile
government, the tensions that flared when their opening session was
abruptly cancelled Wednesday evening were not apparent when they
appeared before reporters after breakfast Thursday.
" I appreciate the courage you show during these difficult times as
you lead your country," Bush told al-Maliki after nearly two and a
half hours of talks. "He's the right guy for Iraq." It was their third
face-to-face meeting since al-Maliki took power about six months ago.
"There is no problem," declared al-Maliki.
There were no immediate answers for mending the Shiite-Sunni divide
that is fueling sectarian bloodshed in Iraq or taming the stubborn
insurgency against the U.S. presence. The leaders emerged from their
breakfast and formal session with few specific ideas, particularly on
Bush's repeated pledge to move more quickly to transfer authority for
Iraq's security to al-Maliki's government.
"One of his frustrations with me is that he believes that we've been
slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi
people," Bush said. "He doesn't have the capacity to respond. So we
want to accelerate that capacity."
There was no explanation from either side of how that would happen,
beyond support for the long-standing goals of speeding the U.S.
military's effort to train Iraqi security forces and to give more
military authority over Iraq to al-Maliki.
A senior al-Maliki aide who attended Thursday's talks said the Iraqi
leader presented Bush a blueprint for the equipping and training of
Iraqi security forces. The aide, who spoke anonymously because of the
sensitive nature of the information, declined to give details.
The November elections that handed control of Congress to Democrats
have given rise to heightened calls for the about 140,000 American
soldiers in Iraq to begin coming home.
Bush acknowledged that pressure and said he wanted to start troop
withdrawals as soon as possible. Still, he insisted the U.S. will stay
"until the job is complete."
"I know there's a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington
mean there's going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq," he
said. "This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism
to it at all."
The president added: "I'm a realist because I understand how tough it
is inside of Iraq."
Thursday's meetings were supposed to be Bush's second set of strategy
sessions in the Jordanian capital. But the first meeting between Bush
and al-Maliki, scheduled for Wednesday night along with Jordan's king,
Accounts varied as to why, but it followed the leak of a classified
White House memo critical of al-Maliki and a boycott of the Iraqi
leader's government in Baghdad. Thirty Iraqi lawmakers and five
cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said
they were suspending participation in Parliament and the government to
protest al-Maliki's decision to meet with Bush.
Bush said al-Maliki "discussed with me his political situation," but
he declined to step publicly into delicate internal Iraqi matters.
Privately, Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeatedly
pressed the Iraqi prime minister to disband a heavily armed Shiite
militia loyal to al-Sadr and blamed for much of the country's
sectarian violence, according to the senior al-Maliki aide.
The official quoted al-Maliki as telling Bush that controlling the
group "is not a big problem and we will find a solution for it."
Al-Sadr is a key al-Maliki political backer and the prime minister has
regularly sidestepped U.S. demands to deal with the Mahdi Army.
Before the cameras, Al-Maliki sent the protesting forces at home a
"Those who participate in this government need to bear
responsibilities, and foremost upon those responsibilities is the
protection of this government, the protection of the constitution, the
protection of the law, not breaking the law," he said.
But al-Maliki's insistence on not attending the three-way meeting with
Bush and Jordan's king was a troubling sign of possible U.S.
difficulties ahead in the effort to calm Iraq.
The Bush administration is believed to be pushing its Sunni allies in
the region meeting host Jordan as well as Saudi Arabia to persuade
Sunni insurgent sympathizers in Iraq to reconcile with the Shiite
factions that are close to the Iraqi leader.
Al-Maliki's refusal to meet with Bush while Jordan's king was in
attendance showed a level of mistrust toward his Sunni-dominated
neighbors that could bode ill for the U.S. strategy.
Bush, meanwhile, continued to reject drawing Shiite-led Iran into
helping Iraq in its struggle for peace.
"I appreciate the prime minister's views that the Iraqis are plenty
capable of running their own business and they don't need foreign
interference from neighbors that will be destabilizing the country,"
Al-Maliki, though, seemed open to the possibility of Tehran, as well
as Damascus, getting involved.
A bipartisan commission on Iraq that will unveil recommendations next
week is expected to urge direct diplomacy with Iran and Syria,
America's chief rivals in the Middle East.
"We are ready to cooperate with everybody who believe that they need
to communicate with the national unity government, especially our
neighbors," al-Maliki said. "Our doors are open."
The two agreed that Iraq should not be partitioned along sectarian
lines into semi-regions for the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, Bush said.
"The prime minister made clear that splitting his country into parts,
as some have suggested, is not what the Iraqi people want, and that
any partition of Iraq would only lead to an increase in sectarian
violence," the president said. "I agree."
Middle East Chief of News Sally Buzbee contributed to this story from
Cairo and AP writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed from Amman.
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