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Saudis Stepping Into Iraq

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    Saudi Arabia Will Protect Sunnis if the U.S. Leaves By Nawaf Obaid Wednesday, November 29, 2006
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 3, 2006
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      Saudi Arabia Will Protect Sunnis if the U.S. Leaves
      By Nawaf Obaid
      Wednesday, November 29, 2006
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/28/AR2006112801277.html


      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
      for years.

      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
      worse.

      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
      visited Riyadh.

      ===

      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
      Abdullah.

      "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
      Washington Note."

      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
      Associated Press


      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,
      was scrubbed.

      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
      message.

      "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,"
      he said.

      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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