During his inaugural appearance before Congress last week, the new U.S. intelligence czar made a rare public reference to one of Washington's secret dreads. Mike McConnell, the new director of national intelligence, said there are funds coming from Saudi Arabia, an ostensible U.S. ally, to help Sunni insurgents in Iraq, while Iran is supporting the Shiite militias there.
McConnell's testimony undergirds U.S. concerns that the Iraq civil war could turn into a direct Saudi-Iranian confrontation, with American military forces caught between warring combatants for Islam's two dominant strains.
Separately, Brian Jenkins, a military expert with Rand Corp., a national security and foreign policy research organization, said: "What we already are seeing in Iraq is an emerging proxy war between Saudi-backed Sunnis and Iranian-backed Shia."
Well yes there's that. And then there's this.
The comments from the country's top intelligence officials echo observations by the Iraq Study Group on Page 25 of its 84-page report released in December.As far as I know, we have no imminent plans to go to war with Saudi Arabia, even though Saudi royalty happen to be funding insurgents who are actually the ones attacking and killing our soldiers in Iraq (as opposed to the odd flare-up with the Mahdi Army here and there.) But we're not, hence the very emphatic emphasis on unfounded links between Iran and attacks on U.S. troops, and the unwillingness of public officials to even acknowledge that the Saudis have any connection whatsoever to the Sunni insurgents in Iraq.
"Funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States," said the report by the study group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., "even as those governments help facilitate U.S. military operations in Iraq by providing basing and overflight rights and by cooperating on intelligence issues."
The Saudis have denied they are supporting the Sunni insurgency.
But Steven Simon, a senior member of the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, said Saudi funding of the Sunni insurgency "is one of those things that we dare not speak its name."
"There is a renewed desire to protect the U.S.-Saudi bilateral relationship," Simon said in an interview. "So you don't want to draw public attention to things they are doing that many observers might regard as counter to American interests."