Dahr Jamail / Asia Times – 2007-10-06 23:13:10
Saudis Quietly Go about ‘Business’ in Iraq
(September 20, 2007) — Reporting on Iraqi benchmarks in mid-September, US President George W Bush and his team of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker sought to pin some of the blame on Iran. Eschewing diplomatic language during his testimony, Crocker boldly said, “Iran plays a harmful role in Iraq.” Petraeus added that Iran is fighting a “proxy war” in Iraq by aiding Shi’ite extremists and providing weapons that are killing US troops.
Anyone doubting that Bush is not serious about taking on Tehran should note his words from last month: “We will confront this danger before it is too late.” On September 17, < i>The Daily Telegraph in London reported that the Pentagon has already drawn up plans for massive air strikes against 2,000 targets across Iran.
The great irony is that while these accusations toward Tehran are supported by thin evidence, plenty of evidence does exist that another of Iraq’s neighbors, US ally Saudi Arabia, is supporting resistance groups in Iraq, and intends to continue to do so.
A neighborly mess: Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia
“Saudi Arabia has both the means and the religious responsibility to intervene” in Iraq, wrote Nawaf Obaid, neo-conservative ally and a former security adviser to the Saudi government, in a shockingly frank editorial for the Washington Post last November.
He warned the Bush administration, sinking ever deeper into the quagmire of Iraq: “America must not ignore the counsel of Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States. If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.”
Obaid’s warning, in response to talk of a possible US withdrawal from Iraq, noted the current Saudi political stance of “I am my brother’s keeper” toward fellow Sunni Arabs in Iraq. Clearly, the Saudis do not consider all Iraqis their brothers, particularly the Shi’ites.
The editorial said, “As the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam and the de facto leader of the world’s Sunni community, constituting 85% of all Muslims, [Saudi Arabia’s] options are to provide Sunni military leaders [primarily 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 Shi’ite armed groups for years or to help establish new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed militias.”
Obaid admitted that Saudi involvement in Iraq carried great risk and “could spark a regional war, but the consequences of inaction are far worse”, and that his country had “pressed other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council … Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman – to give financial support to Sunnis in Iraq”.
Arming the Neighborhood
Last month, the Bush administration announced new arms packages for Israel and seven Arab nations comprising military equipment worth US$20 billion to Saudi Arabia, more than $30 billion in military assistance to Israel and $13 billion to Egypt.
To some extent, the arms packages are an extension of US policies that have been in place for years in the Middle East. For example, since 1998, Saudi Arabia alone has received more than $15 billion in US weapons.
But these sales have had little impact in the region other than arming everyone to the teeth. In her article “The Saudi arms deal: Congressional opposition grows”, Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, points out, “The United States has had little success in the past using arms sales to buy leverage in the region.”
From Washington’s viewpoint, the sale has two objectives: bucking up the Saudi-dominated six-member Gulf Cooperation Council and countering Iran’s influence. But the sales will likely cause Iran to respond by boosting its arms caches.
A dangerous side-effect of the sales is the addition of more arms into a region where each country has distinct objectives in the region and inside Iraq. The sales set the stage for Iraq to be the flashpoint for a potential proxy and/or regional war.
But most dangerous for Iraqis and US troops, the sales reward a country that is providing an estimated 45% of all foreigners fighting US troops and Iraqi government forces.
Destabilizing Iraq: The Saudi Role
A “clear” view of Iraq is now visible only through a blood-soaked kaleidoscope of contradictory and conflicting US policies. While the Bush administration regularly lashes out at Syria and Iran for aiding militias and foreign fighters in Iraq, according to official US military figures reported in the Los Angeles Times on July 15, about 45% of all foreign militants targeting US troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia. Fighters from the kingdom are believed to have carried out the majority of suicide bombings in Iraq.
Who is to blame for the influx of fighters? General Mansour Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, blames forces inside Iraq for the flow of Saudi human bombs into Iraq. If he is to be believed, “Saudis are actually being misused. Someone is helping them come to Iraq. Someone is helping them inside Iraq. Someone is recruiting them to be suicide bombers. We have no idea who these people are. We aren’t getting any formal information from the Iraqi government.”
But Iraqis are quick to point the finger across the border. Lawmaker Sami Askari, an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, accuses Saudi officials of following a deliberate policy of sowing chaos in Baghdad: “The fact is that Saudi Arabia has strong intelligence resources, and it would be hard to think that they are not aware of what is going on.”
Askari claims that imams at Saudi mosques regularly call for jihad against Iraq’s Shi’ites and that the Saudi government has funded groups to cause chaos and bloodshed in Iraq’s predominantly Shi’ite south.
But in large part this continues to be conveniently overlooked by the Bush administration so that massive arms packages can be sold to Saudi Arabia, access to the vast oil reserves continues unabated, and the Saudi royal family’s long-standing connections to the Bush family remain unmentioned in mainstream circles.
Bush’s ‘Proxy War’ cCaim over Iran Exposed
There are rare days, however, when the boat does get rocked. Just days before the $20 billion arms package was handed to the Saudi monarchy, Bush administration officials voiced their anger at the “counterproductive” role of Saudi Arabia in Iraq. They accused the kingdom of regarding Maliki as an Iranian agent and actively working to undermine his government and of offering financial backing to various Sunni groups inside Iraq.
Zalmay Khalilzad, former US ambassador to Iraq and now Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in the New York Times recently, “Several of Iraq’s neighbors, not only Syria and Iran but also some friends of the United States, are pursuing destabilizing policies there.”
But this is the exception rather than the rule. The cozy
relationship between Washington and Riyadh continues, largely unscathed.
And Destabilizing They Are …
“Mosul is where the Saudis are the most active today because it is already primarily Sunni and there are a few Kurds,” said Sureya Sayadi, a 46-year-old Kurdish-American woman who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Sayadi, from Kirkuk, Iraq, fled to the United States with her family when the US left Kurds in the lurch after encouraging them to rebel against Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the 1991 war against Iraq.
A teacher and a medical doctor, Sayadi fills the rest of her time facilitating the work of an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that assists Kurdish orphans and victims of honor killings. She is busier than ever as the number of both has escalated dramatically in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. She believes Bush administration policies “have empowered Islamist political parties whose clerics promote honor killings” and have “destroyed Iraq’s judicial system and altered its laws to justify the killings”.
She said, “One of our Kurdish employees has heard from the community that the Saudis are taking over parts of Kurdistan by promising people education.”
In recent conversations with her NGO colleagues, Sayadi has found that within the past two years, the Saudi government has financed the construction of at least 50 mosques in Irbil and Suleimaniya alone. They are also active on the Turkish-Iraqi border and in Kirkuk and Halabja. She explained, “They go to areas where there is the most poverty and suffering, stepping in to offer services that people are not getting from the government – health care, education and sometimes employment – and in the process implant[ing] their fundamentalist ideology.”
Sayadi believes the Saudi monarchy is directly involved in funding “at least four new Islamic groups in Kurdistan. They are exploiting the fact that Kurds are mostly Sunni.”
During the summer of 2005, members of al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sunna cells were among several extremists arrested in Irbil, and most of them were Kurds. Prior to this, Saudi mosque-building in the area during the 1990s combined with the return of Kurdish militants who had fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan is believed to have led to the emergence of such groups as Ansar al-Sunna.
The perception was that these men aspired to radicalize the general population by replicating the Afghan model in Kurdistan. Reinforcing this trend around that time, Saudi Arabia established links with these Kurds to counter the power of Saddam. In 1992-93, Islamist Kurdish groups worked under the Saudi-based International Islamic Relief Organization and other “charities”, which pumped $22 million a month into Kurdish areas. Today, Saudi names have been replaced with Kurdish names.
In the decade following the 1991 war, when Saudi “charities” constructed 1,832 new mosques, alarmed Kurdish officials instituted restrictions. Wahhabi teachings followed in Saudi Arabia had been translated into Kurdish and imported into the region, accompanied by the Salafi strain, a puritanical, strict interpretation of the Koran adhered to by al-Qaeda.
In 2003, US air strikes targeted bases of Ansar al-Sunna on Iraq’s northeastern border with Iran. These same radical groups, thanks in large part to Saudi backing, are now alive and flourishing in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.
“Islamists from Saudi Arabia are offering money to young Kurds, visiting their schools, marrying Kurdish girls and taking them back to the kingdom,” Sayadi said. “Kurds have always been quite secular – none of us practiced the hijab [body covering] – but now Kurdish women are being forced to do this. There is segregation of men and women.
People in sheer desperation and hope for aid are turning more fundamentalist. The environment is ripe for fundamentalism, and Saudi influence is increasing rapidly. They are creating a hope-filled impression among the people that Islamic assertion is the way to resist the West.
Kurdish girls assisted by Sayadi’s NGO have revealed that Saudi Islamists are pressuring Kurdish women to adopt a fundamentalist ideology in exchange for free religious studies in Kurdish universities. From her experience with Kurdish refugees in southeastern Turkey, she said, “In both Iraq and Turkey, Islamists are operating in a similar fashion, leaving no stones unturned to convert people to fundamental Islam. They are buying poor Kurds desperate for survival and feeding them ideology.”
Sayadi’s 35-year-old unemployed nephew Mushtaq, with a Kurdish mother and a Shi’ite Arab father, used to drive a taxi between Beji and Baghdad. “A man with a Saudi dialect called his mother, my stepsister Gailas, and ordered her to raise $2,500 to free Mushtaq.
They called from his cell phone and had him appeal to his mother to give them the money. She raised the money and brought it to a suburb in Baghdad where they had instructed her to go, only to find her son’s burned taxi and his hacked body wrapped in his prayer rug. The men said they did it because he was Shi’ite.”
The Middle East is floating in the violence and chaos bred by failed Bush administration policies. Generations are now being raised in occupations and war zones, which were caused, or supported by, Washington. Anti-American sentiment in the region is quite likely higher than it has ever been in history.
The primary sword in the belly of the Middle East – the US occupation of Iraq – needs to be immediately and unconditionally removed. The United States would simultaneously pay full compensation to all Iraqis who have lost a loved one or suffered damages as a result of the US-led invasion and occupation.
Second to this, the massive weapons packages should be canceled; there is no need to attempt to douse the raging fires in the Middle East with yet more sophisticated weaponry.
In addition, if Iran is to be sanctioned, is it not inherently hypocritical not to be sanctioning Saudi Arabia in the same way, since there is more than ample evidence indicating that fighters, funding and most likely weapons are pouring across its borders into Iraq?
The solution must, finally, include diplomacy and even-handed dealings among all of the countries in the Middle East, as opposed to the current model where countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia in effect have carte blanche to do what they may.
Dahr Jamail has reported from inside Iraq and is a Middle East expert.
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