Thursday, June 19, 2014

Is Saudi Arabia behind the ISIL land grab?

Shortly after the US revealed that, in addition to aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships it was also sending a few hundred "special forces" on the ground in Iraq, contrary to what Obama had stated previously, Washington made quite clear it wants Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to embrace Sunni politicians as a condition of U.S. support to fight a lightning advance by forces from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Then something unexpected happened: Iraq's Shi'ite rulers defied Western calls on Tuesday to reach out to Sunnis to defuse the uprising in the north of the country, declaring a boycott of Iraq's main Sunni political bloc and accusing Sunni power Saudi Arabia of promoting "genocide." 
In fact, as Reuters reported moments ago, the Shi'ite prime minister has moved in the opposite direction of Obama's demands, announcing a crackdown on politicians and officers he considers "traitors" and lashing out at neighbouring Sunni countries for stoking militancy. 
Not only did Iraq defy the US, but it also called out America's BFF (or at least formerly so until the arrival of Iran, which the US is aggressively, and inexplicably, rushing to make its new key partner in the region) for being the real aggressor behind the scenes? How dare Maliki point out the truth - doesn't he know that those US troops in Iraq can just as easily be used to depose the current regime as "fight" the Al Qaeda Jihadists the US itself armed in the first place? 
Apparently not, and instead of seeking a broad coalition with Sunnis as the US ordered, the latest target of his government's fury was Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power in the Gulf, which funds Sunni militants in neighbouring Syria but denies it is behind ISIL. 
"We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that - which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites," the Iraqi government said of Riyadh in a statement. 
As Reuters notes, Maliki has blamed Saudi Arabia for supporting militants in the past, but the severe language was unprecedented.
(Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki broadcast a joint appeal for national unity on Tuesday with bitter Sunni critics of his Shi'ite-led government - a move that may help him win U.S. help against rampant Islamists threatening Baghdad. Just hours after Maliki's Shi'ite allies had angrily vowed to boycott any cooperation with the biggest Sunni party and his government had accused Sunni neighbor Saudi Arabia of backing "genocide", the premier's visibly uncomfortable televised appearance may reflect U.S. impatience with its Baghdad protege.
The Saudi government says no:
The Saudi monarchy has been a vocal supporter of the overthrow of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and sent money and weapons to rebel groups fighting against him from early on in the Syrian uprising. It has also called repeatedly for western arms – including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons – to be given to Syrian rebels "to level the playing-field" in the war.
Wealthy individuals and religious foundations in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and elsewhere in the Gulf have channelled millions of dollars to the anti-Assad opposition, though it is not clear with what degree of official connivance. 
But since last autumn the Saudi government has diverted its support to a broad Islamic Front which has been fighting against jihadi formations such as Isis and the Syrian group Jabhat al-Nusra. There is other evidence of a rethink in the replacement of the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, with Prince Mohamed bin Nayef, the interior minister and architect of a successful campaign against al-Qaida. The Saudis are also co-ordinating more closely with the US than previously
"There is Saudi money flowing into Isis but it is not from the Saudi state," said Lina Khatib of the Carnegie Foundation.

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