Sunday, February 18, 2007

Gulf stands on brink of all-out war

   I would consider the following article a must read. This was originally posted in December,2006.

FirstPost     February 18,2007

Saudis say they’ll fight for their fellow Sunnis if the coalition forces quit Iraq, says robert fox

While the Bush administration remains locked in argument with the consiglieri of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group about what to do in Iraq, events on the ground are now moving ahead of them.

There is now every chance that civil war could turn into a major regional war as the Saudis and Jordanians threaten to come in on the side of the Sunni community, and the Shia militias in turn look to Tehran and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for backing.

"The intervention of Saudi Arabia and Jordan is now the most dangerous possibility facing us," a British commander told me, on condition of anonymity.

"We can't go, and we can't stay in the present posture. We've got to find a way of keeping a presence, but without it becoming the main problem."

    The main proposals of the Baker-Hamilton report are seen as unrealistic by force commanders on the ground in Iraq. The plan is for American forces to pull back next year and assume primarily an oversight and training role with the Iraqi army, national guard and police.

The bulk of US forces would go home by April 2008. The British would move faster, handing back Maysan province to the Iraqis next January and Basra in April. By July 2007, Britain would have only 2,000 service personnel in Iraq, at most.

But US commanders, led by General John Abizaid of US Central Command, do not believe the Iraqi army will be ready to run anything much in terms of security for years to come.

This is what the Saudis realise too. And they have given warning to the US and Britain that if they make a quick exit by April 2008, they and their allies will have no choice but to enter Iraq to help their co-religionists, the Sunni Arabs.

Until now the Saudis have only hinted at their frustration with the allies.

"Since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited," said the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US, Prince Turki al-Faisal.

Now, according to my anonymous British commander, their threat is unambiguous.

The Saudis' King Abdullah has said that, for the time being, his forces will not give arms and training to the Sunni insurgents of Iraq. But reports from Baghdad suggest this is already happening.

This is not the only threat facing the allies as they stare defeat in the face in Iraq. Tensions are rising between the Americans and the British.

American officials, particularly in the CIA, have criticised the British approach to dealing with the Iraqis, particularly the Shia militias in the south of the country.

A confidential British briefing paper says this is now a major bone of contention. "The Americans believe the British should take out the Mahdi Army (otherwise know as the Jaish al-Mahdi or JAM) of Moqtada al Sadr," said a British official last week.

This is because the Americans are backing the rival militia of the Badr Brigades, attached to the Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq of Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, for whom they rolled out the red carpet in Washington earlier this month.

As civil war edges towards regional war in Iraq and the Gulf, the Arab powers have just thrown a large fly in the ointment - and it's a nuclear one.

At the meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council at the weekend, Saudi Arabia and its allies discussed openly for the first time the necessity for the Gulf Arab alliance to begin developing its own nuclear industry - for civil, and peaceful purposes, of course.

But why else would Arab kings and emirs, sitting on the largest commercial fossil fuel reserves in the world, want access to nuclear know-how, except to create a deterrent to protect their interests in an ever more unstable region?


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