NEAR EASTERN UPDATE: THE SUNNIS SOUND THE TOCSIN
"In meeting this Soviet threat we have two principal weapons; the remaining influences and friendships we enjoy. Do the United States Government not agree that it should be our purpose to preserve and strengthen these cards? What resources are open to us in this struggle:-
(1) The remaining elements of our own strength.
These consist of: - British and American forces in Libya: American bases in Turkey: British forces in Jordan: British position in Cyprus and the Persian Gulf: British treaty rights in Suez and Iraq: American military aid to Pakistan, Iraq, Iran. It is our view that these assets should be carefully guarded. We assume the United States Government agree.
In particular, the British position in the Pesian Gulf, besides giving us essential economic advantages, is a most important political card in the Arab World. This position depends wholly upon the confidence of the various Arab Rulers in our ability and willingness to defend their interests. Moreover there is no restlessness against our influence among the people of these states. If we allowed it to be seen in one case that our protection cannot be relied upon the whole edifice would collapse. All the other small states would run for cover to the nearest powerful protector - who would certainly be neutralist and anti-western. As far as Her Majesty's Government is concerned it is a firm decision that we are not going to allow this to happen....
The ruling classes of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon and (we hope) Egypt are still Western in sympathy. But the appeal of communism to the masses, aided by the new anti-Israeli policy of the Soviet bloc, is a growing threat. There is no time to lose regretting the forms of political life in friendly Arab States. It is most urgent to give our friends a sense of security and unity. If we do not draw those countries together which are still able and willing to act with us we shall see them one by one slip out of our control".
Charles Arthur Evelyn Shuckburgh, Assistant Under-secretary of State at the Foreign Office, 14 December 1955 in F[oreign]O[ffice] 371/115467 (copy of the original in my possession).
Since, the American Congressional elections and in particular since it has dawned on the Sunni regimes in the Near East, that the American commitment to the debacle in Iraq may, just may wane, voices from the self-same regimes have started to sound off, about the dangers of a triumphant Shiite bloc emerging in the region. It was this sense of concern, which already saw most of the self-same regimes: Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan, Egypt, et al., line up, against Hezbollah in its summer war with Israel. At least at the beginning. And, notwithstanding the fact that the self-same war went badly for these regimes in the sense that Hezbollah's ability to survive the Israeli assault, was widely used to scorn these self-same governments, relations between these powers and Syria as well as Persia have not
With the Iraq Study Group dropping hints that it may strongly recommend that USA try to reach some type of accomodation with both Syria and Persia (both non-Sunni powers), in order to salvage its position in Iraq, Sunni concerns has reached new heights. Last week, in a widely remarked article in the Washington Post, a security analysist, with close ties to the Saudi Royal Government, wrote an article in which he contended that if the USA were to withdraw from Iraq, and in effect leave the Sunni community there at the tender mercy of a Persian backed, Shiite government, Riyadh may have to actively intervene on the side of its co-religionists. As per this scenario:
"Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.
Because King Abdullah has been working to minimize sectarian tensions in Iraq and reconcile Sunni and Shiite communities, because he gave President Bush his word that he wouldn't meddle in Iraq (and because it would be impossible to ensure that Saudi-funded militias wouldn't attack U.S. troops), these requests have all been refused. They will, however, be heeded if American troops begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq. As the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam and the de facto leader of the world's Sunni community (which comprises 85 percent of all Muslims), Saudi Arabia has both the means and the religious responsibility to intervene...
...What's clear is that the Iraqi government won't be able to protect the Sunnis from Iranian-backed militias if American troops leave. Its army and police cannot be relied on to do so, as tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen have infiltrated their ranks. Worse, Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, cannot do anything about this, because he depends on the backing of two major leaders of Shiite forces.
In this case, remaining on the sidelines would be unacceptable to Saudi Arabia. To turn a blind eye to the massacre of Iraqi Sunnis would be to abandon the principles upon which the kingdom was founded. It would undermine Saudi Arabia's credibility in the Sunni world and would be a capitulation to Iran's militarist actions in the region.
To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks -- it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse".
See: www.belgraviadispatch.com The 30th November posting.
And, this was followed on Thursday of last week by remarks of the Emir of Kuwait, to the effect that, an American withdrawal from Iraq would have the result of:
"In the current circumstances an American withdrawal would in no way help bring back stability. On the contrary, the situation would worsen and we would see a civil war of great intensity for which the whole world will pay the price". See the Beirut Daily Star in www.dailystar.com.lb
No doubt, there are a mixture of motives in the Sunni elites raising the alarm in the way they have done recently (which King Abdullah of Jordan has also indulged in). One, is no doubt genuine concern about the threat to stability in the region, as it appears that the American policy of 'overthrow' in Iraq has come unstuck. With the potential of instability in Iraq (and now the Lebanon) being exported to elsewhere in the region. To that extent, all of these regimes are indeed members in good standing of the front against 'extremism', that Mr. Zelikow, spoke about in mid-September in Washington DC. However, the fact of the matter is, that almost none of these regimes are capable for various reasons to 'stand up' to the forces of extremism, id est, Persia and Syria and their allies, such as Hezbollah. That is why, one tends to be a bit cynical about the prospectus, raised by the article in the Washington Post last week. As one eminent analysis informed me, via e-mail: the Saudis have never cared to fight something which they can just buy off. Hence, I tend to agree with those who argue that the alarmist comments cited above, as well as others, are aimed much more at influencing the Washington debate over future Iraq policy, than anything else. But, while if it this is true (which it no doubt is), it does show that any American policy of withdrawal from Iraq, will have to navigate carefully around the potential fall-out of a collapse of confidence by local, Sunni regimes in the USA security guarantee.