Reporting on Iraqi benchmarks in mid-September,
Bush and his team of Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador 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." Gen. David Petraeus
added that Iran is fighting a "proxy war" in Iraq by aiding Shi'ite
extremists and providing weapons that are killing American 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 the Telegraph
reported that the Pentagon has already drawn up plans for massive airstrikes
against 2,000 targets across Iran.
The great irony is that while these accusations towards Tehran are supported
by thin evidence, plenty of evidence does exist that another of Iraq's neighbors,
U.S.-ally Saudi Arabia, is supporting resistance groups in Iraq, and intends
to continue to do so.
A Neighborly Mess: Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia
"Saudi Arabia has both the means and the
religious responsibility to intervene [in Iraq]," wrote Nawaf Obaid, neoconservative
ally and a former security advisor 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 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq,
noted the current Saudi political stance "I am my brothers' keeper"
towards fellow Sunni Arabs in Iraq. Clearly the Saudis do not consider all Iraqis
their brothers, particularly the Shi'ites.
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
percent of all Muslims, Saudi 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
In August, the Bush administration announced new
arms packages for Israel and
seven Arab nations comprising military equipment worth $20 billion to Saudi
Arabia, over $30 billion in military assistance to Israel, and $13 billion to
To some extent, the arms packages are an extension of the same policies that
have been in place for years in the Middle East. For example since 1998, Saudi
Arabia alone has received over $15 billion in U.S. 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 points
out that "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
But most dangerously for Iraqis and U.S. troops, the sales reward a country
that is providing an estimated 45%
of all foreigners fighting U.S. 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 U.S. policies.
While the Bush administration regularly lashes out at Syria and Iran for aiding
militias and foreign fighters in Iraq, according to official U.S. military figures
reported in the Los Angeles Times on July 15, about 45% of all foreign
militants targeting U.S. 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 though? Gen. Mansour Turki, a spokesman
for the Saudi Interior Ministry, however, blames forces inside of 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 advisor to Prime Minister Nouri 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 had 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.
There are the odd 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 Saudi Arabia of regarding Maliki
as an Iranian agent and actively working to undermine his government and for
offering financial backing to various Sunni groups inside Iraq.
Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and presently the U.S. ambassador
to the UN, 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
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,"
says Sureya Sayadi, a 46-year-old Kurdish-American woman who lives in the Bay
Area of California. Sayadi, from Kirkuk, Iraq fled to the United States with
her family when the U.S. 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 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 adds, "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 last two years, the Saudi government has financed the construction of at
least 50 mosques in Erbil and Suleimaniya alone. They are also very active on
the Turkish/Iraq border and in Kirkuk and Halabja. She explains, "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
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 Erbil, and most of them were Kurds. Prior
to this, Saudi mosque-building in the area during the 1990's 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 groups like Ansar al-Sunna. The
general 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 Hussein. 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 the 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. Wahabi
teachings followed in Saudi 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, U.S. air-strikes had targeted bases of Ansar al-Islam 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 tells me, "Kurds have always been quite secular, none of us practiced
the hijab 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
amongst 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 sees that, "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 step-sister 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."
Another disturbing incident in northern Iraq this April was the stoning to
death of a 17-year-old Yazidi girl, Du'a Khalil Aswad, by men from the Saudi-funded
Amnesty International condemned the killing, calling it "a so-called honor
crime" in which the girl "was killed by a group of eight or nine men
and in the presence of a large crowd in the town of Bashika, near Mosul because
she had engaged in a relationship with a Sunni Muslim boy and had been absent
from her home for one night."
The Middle East is floating in the violence and
chaos bred by failed Bush administration policies. Generations are now being
raised in occupations and/or war zones, which were caused and/or supported by
Washington. Needless to say, 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 that of the U.S. occupation
of Iraq must be immediately and unconditionally removed. The United States
must simultaneously pay full compensation to every Iraqi who has lost a loved
one or suffered damages as a result of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation.
Second to this, the massive weapons packages should be immediately 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 amongst
all of the countries in the Middle East, as opposed to the current model where
countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia effectively have carte blanche to do
what they may. Otherwise it is sure to fail.
Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy in Focus.