Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Saudis will intervene in Iraq

Important piece from Saudi advisor to Amb. Turki al-Faisal (himself the smoothest of operators) Nawaf Obaid.

If you want to know what King Abdullah said to VP Cheney in Riyadh last week, bet your back side it was something of the following:

One consequence of American withdrawal on American timeline will be: "massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shiite militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis."

Here's the key passage:

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.

The Saudis will start funding Sunni militias as self-defense and hopefully move to pincer the AQ in Iraq groups (which they certainly don't want next door).

There have been a chorus of voices arguing that engagement with Syria and Iran is no good bc they are the ones stirring trouble in Iraq. The Saudis will be as soon as the American starting drawing down troops levels (or even moving to more secure locations and work on training Iraqi Army). The whole argument about not talking to Iran and Syria then isn't about as short term and tunnel visioned as whether nor not that can stop violence in Iraq (less than we would hope I suppose) but the long term creation of a regional security and re-made Middle East.

The Iraqi Army is going to become essentially an all-Shia and Kurd institution once this happens--basically already is but the Sunnis are going to walk out on this goverment I imagine within 3 months give or take. The Saudis quietly have been undergoing a massive re-vamp of their military, education, and especially security. They have come to realize their long co-option of radical Islamic elements (since '73 when King Faisal allowed such elements in to the Saudi mosques and teaching faculties) has backfired and they need to extricate themselves from this relatonship. Their efforts in Iraq will win them praise from conservative ulemma (scholars) and tribal leaders who they hope to use to isolate the more radical elements I think.

The need for a regional security umbrella is the only thing that the Americans can still do positively in the region: prevent an all out regional war. The biggest gain that could come out of America's pullout and loss of prestige in the ME is that Iran and Saudi Arabia finally step up to the plate, get over their historic riff--and here Syria can become the kingmaker--and finally take up the work of securing their own region. America to be a good arbiter will have to come to security agreements with Iran. Turkey would of course be involved and for good behavior the carrot would EU membership.

That is the positive outlook. Not guaranteed by a long shot--Israel as the unknown X Variable in this whole equation--and even if it does come around it will be bloody in the meantime.

Hat tip to WashingtonNote for this one.


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