Friday, July 27, 2007

The Saudis in Iraq

From today's NY Times, an article on Saudi involvement in Iraq's civil war:

Bush administration officials are voicing increasing anger at what they say has been Saudi Arabia’s counterproductive role in the Iraq war. They say that beyond regarding Mr. Maliki as an Iranian agent, the Saudis have offered financial support to Sunni groups in Iraq. Of an estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters who enter Iraq each month, American military and intelligence officials say that nearly half are coming from Saudi Arabia and that the Saudis have not done enough to stem the flow.

One senior administration official says he has seen evidence that Saudi Arabia is providing financial support to opponents of Mr. Maliki.

The accounts of American concerns came from interviews with several senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they believed that openly criticizing Saudi Arabia would further alienate the Saudi royal family at a time when the United States is still trying to enlist Saudi support for Mr. Maliki and the Iraqi government, and for other American foreign policy goals in the Middle East, including an Arab-Israeli peace plan.

In agreeing to interviews in advance of the joint trip to Saudi Arabia, the officials were nevertheless clearly intent on sending a pointed signal to a top American ally. They expressed deep frustration that more private American appeals to the Saudis had failed to produce a change in course.

I think this article illustrates two important considerations. One, the Saudis, like everyone else in the Middle East, have an important stake in the outcome in Iraq. They will continue to intervene in Iraq to defend/advance those interests, a position we have respected by taking so long to call them out on their support for insurgent groups. This means of course that they are amenable to taking actions that also benefit us so long as those actions benefit their own interests. Given the odds that the Shiites would overwhelm the Sunni if unchecked civil war rages, they have as much interest in stability in Iraq as we do. At the same time, it must be noted that the Saudis are continuing to support insurgent groups even as those insurgents are killing our soldiers. In other words, having over 150,000 soldiers in Iraq has not given us any greater ability to dictate to Saudi Arabia what they should and should not do. This is very definitely an argument against those who say that leaving some residual force in Iraq will protect our interests in the country. Why would the Saudis respect our wishes when our soldiers pull back from fighting insurgents, when they don't respect them as our soldiers battle the insurgents? Both of these considerations lend support to an argument for a renewed diplomatic approach that is not directly tied to a military strategy in Iraq.

Just some things to think about...

1 comment:

paddyshap said...

Iraq puts the Sauds in a tough position vis-a-vis their own restive population. We have to remember that this is not a popular regime, nor one with deep historical roots. Many in the Arabian peninsula remember their overthrow of the Hashemites in the 20's, and thus still view them as foreign occupiers of Islam's two holiest cities.

The Sauds aren't deaf to this contingent, and occasionally have to placate this sentiment so as to not let it get too out of hand. If that means letting 80-90 insurgents cross over into Iraq, so be it. The Americans can piss and moan all they like, but they'll still buy our oil.