Just Another Guy with Opinions

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and the US

Posted by shadmia on February 3, 2007


The two major powers in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia and Iran, have vital interests in the Iraqi situation. They happen to be supporting opposite sides, aligned along religious affiliations. Saudi Arabia is a majority Sunni country that has tribal and religious ties to the Sunni minority in Iraq. Iran on the other hand is a majority Shiite nation just like Iraq.

There have been high level contacts between the governments of both Iran and Iraq and both countries seem to be on the verge of economic and security agreements. All this in spite of the US attempt to isolate and punish the Iranians over their nuclear program. The US also claims that the Iranians are helping the insurgency in Iraq and providing weapons and technology that have been used to kill American soldiers. President Bush has issued orders to engage and kill Iranians found to be involved in the insurgency.

Saudi Arabia has until now been a passive observer in the Iraqi situation. Although its sympathies would normally lie with the minority Sunnis, and some of its citizens have aided them, The Saudis have not been implicated in any organised plot to support them in the sectarian conflict raging in Iraq. They have also not shown any great interest in resolving the conflict……until recently.

Now the Saudis and the Iranians seem to be conferring with each other to try to find a settlement to the Iraqi war and the situation in Lebanon.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Tuesday that Iran had approached his country to “cooperate in averting strife between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon.”

“Saudi Arabia wants only peace in the region,” al-Faisal said. “Contacts are ongoing between Riyadh and Tehran.”
A Saudi envoy is in Iran studying all the efforts being exerted to calm the situation in Iraq and Lebanon and “exploring what Iran can contribute,” he said.

This would ordinarily be a good thing except that the US seems to be left out of the discussions. As the US has become more belligerent towards Iran, both the Saudis and the Iraqis seem to be getting closer to the Iranians. As much as the Arab leaders have been trying to talk to each other, the US has been trying to alienate Iran. There seems to be a divergence of views, perceptions and intent among the Arab countries and the US.

Those who preach reconciliation with local forces based on mutual recognition of legitimate interests, on good neighbourliness and an equitable balance of power are dismissed as appeasers and defeatists.

The US and Israel seem determined to ignore the lessons of the wars they have waged, and lost, in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories – namely that occupation breeds insurrection; that blatant aggression and injustice create terrorists; that an elusive “guerrilla” enemy is difficult to subdue; that states faced with the danger of war will seek deterrence; and that the merger of nationalism and Islam can forge ferocious militancy.

The Saudis have been America’s staunchest ally among the Arab states in the Middle East and have even gone along with the Bush Administration’s plan to increase troop levels by 21,000 in Iraq, although they have expressed doubts that such a strategy will succeed. Now it would appear that the Saudis have decided to try diplomacy with Iran as a way to lessen the tensions in the region. They no longer seem to share the American view that Iran is a destabilizing force in the region. Quite the contrary, the Saudis seem to be looking for an alliance with Iran to foster stability in both Iraq and Lebanon. Other nations have also acknowledged the increasing influence that Saudi Arabia now wields.

The German chancellor Angela Merkel will pay a state visit as have others……High-profile visitors to Riyadh in the past two weeks alone have included the new US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, his counterpart at the State Department Condoleezza Rice, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Following on the heels of Merkel’s trip will be a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The US is having trouble gaining support for its plan to isolate and punish Iran and some have even wondered if the Bush Administration has other motives, perhaps political motives, for its continuing belligerence towards Iran………Is the US rattling the sabre in advance of an attack on Iran? Or is it merely rattling its cage, as it pretends still to be a power in the region in spite of being locked into an unwinnable war in Iraq?

The real purpose of Washington’s heightened talk of Iranian subversion seems to be twofold. The administration is playing the blame game. When the “who lost Iraq?” debate develops in earnest as the presidential election contest hots up, Bush’s people will name its fall guys. Number one will be the Democrats, for failing to fund the war adequately and allowing the “enemy” to take comfort from the sapping of American will. Number two will be Iran for its alleged arming of militias and insurgents. Number three will be Syria for allowing suicide bombers through Damascus airport and into Iraq.

The second purpose of Washington’s anti-Iranian claims, as the former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski recently suggested, is to prepare a case for a US military strike on Iran. It will be described as defensive, just as the first attacks on North Vietnam two generations ago were falsely said to be an answer to the other side’s aggression.

The safest conclusion is that Washington remains confused about what Iran is doing, and frustrated by its own inability to find allies to support a response. All options are being prepared, along with their “justifications”. The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ annual survey rightly pointed out this week that US power is fading. It can shape an agenda but not implement it globally.


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2 Responses to “Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and the US”

  1. unitedcats said

    Iran isn’t an Arab country, so what you are saying in several places is a bit confusing to me. Otherwise, interesting analysis of a confusing and complicated situation. JMO —Doug

  2. shadmia said

    Doug, You are of course correct. Maybe I should have said two major powers in the “Middle East”. It is a common generalization to lump Iran with the Arabs when they are in fact Persians. Thanks for pointing this out.

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