Principles of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
From what I can surmise, the US had plans to wipe out the resistance in al-Anbar Province in Iraq, which Saudi Arabia could not swallow and relayed its objections to Cheney personally. Here's the report in L'Orient Le Jour by AFP reporter Stephen Collinson.
The specter of a proxy war in Iraq between Saudi Arabia and Iran has given Washington the willies as George W. Bush prepares to announce his new strategy in Iraq.
"We could be on the eve of a Saudi intervention in Iraq on behalf of their Sunni brothers. We could be on the edge of a proxy war", says Charles Freeman, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The New York Times, citing US and Arab diplomats, wrote on Wednesday that "Saudi Arabia notified the Bush Administration that should US troops be pulled out, the Kingdom would lend its financial support to Sunnis in all conflict between them and the Shi'a". According to the newspaper, "Saudi warnings reflect the fears on the part of Sunni allies of the United States (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt) before growing Iranian influence in Iraq, not to mention Teheran's nuclear ambitions".
This story, immediately downplayed by the White House, and the unexpected resignation of the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a scant 15 days after his appointment, have plunged the entire diplomatic world into anxiety.
While Iraq is on the verge of civil war, one of the options available to the United States is to adopt the classic military approach of supporting the faction most likely to win. But the tacit support of Washington for the Shi'ite community could sour relations between Washington and its Sunni allies. "If Washington implements this policy, the Saudis will certainly align themselves against it", predicts Mr. Freeman, who added that Saudi money may be used in equipping and heavily arming the Sunni camp.
Saudi Arabia "cannot permit itself to remain on the sidelines" in Iraq because, should a "a disaster occur at its gates", the kingdom will have to "bear the consequences", affirms James Dobbins, a former high US State Department official.
King Abdallah of Arabia is facing the pressures of opinion and a portion of the kingdom's clerics to support Iraqi Sunnis; US support of the Shi'a will worsen the problem.
"If you were Saudi, you would be very worried about this", says Michael Hudson, Professor of Arab Studies at Georgetown University.
"At this point, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are not prepared to admit that they would consider Iranian domination in Iraq or the destruction of their co-religionists", asserts Mr. Freeman.
This could have grave consequences for the United States in the conduct of the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. "If Saudi Arabia is on one side, and the US on the other, do you think the Saudis would permit overflight of their territory? ", asks Mr. Freeman.
According to the Washington Post, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the flamboyant Saudi Ambassador to Washington for 22 years, recently made a trip to the US capital to meet with officials of the Bush Administration, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. As the Saudi National Security Adviser, the prince urged his listeners to refuse to negotiate with Tehran or Damascus.
"Closing one's eyes to the massacres of Iraqi Sunnis would be to abandon the principles on which the kingdom was founded. It is certain that Saudi involvement in Iraq would be a tremendous risk factor and could lead to regional war. But the consequences of inaction would be still worse", says Nawaf Obaid, a close adviser to the Saudi Ambassador to Washington.
Stephen COLLINSON (AFP)