December 13, 2006

Saudis: Don't Leave Iraq

The Saudis have warned the United States against pulling out of Iraq, telling American officials that a retreat would set off a bloodbath. In fact, the Saudis feel so strongly about it that they told the US that an American withdrawal would prompt them to fund a sectarian arms race to protect the Sunni minority:

Saudi Arabia has told the Bush administration that it might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulls its troops out of Iraq, according to American and Arab diplomats.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said. ...

The Saudis have argued strenuously against an American pullout from Iraq, citing fears that Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab population would be massacred. Those fears, United States officials said, have become more pronounced as a growing chorus in Washington has advocated a draw-down of American troops in Iraq, coupled with diplomatic outreach to Iran, which is largely Shiite.

“It’s a hypothetical situation, and we’d work hard to avoid such a structure,” one Arab diplomat in Washington said. But, he added, “If things become so bad in Iraq, like an ethnic cleansing, we will feel we are pulled into the war.”

In one sense, it's difficult to take the Saudis seriously on this topic. Their own government has contributed to the spread of radical Islamism around the world, only of the Sunni variety, while the Shi'ite strain has taken the upper hand in Iraq's sectarian violence. They opposed our invasion in 2003, mostly because they saw Saddam as less of a threat than Iran at the time, and they were happy to have us spend billions keeping him that way every year. Now they see their Sunni brethren as an endangered species without the American umbrella of security in Iraq, and they do not want to see either an annihilation or a massive refugee flood into their kingdom.

However, the advice is correct in this case. The result of an American withdrawal would be catastrophe for the region. Either the surrounding nations would have to use the sectarian groups to fight proxy wars with each other or they would have to actually send troops into Iraq to stop the violence, perhaps all the way to Baghdad. In that case, the various factions would pull Iraq apart, and Iran would gain valuable oil resources in the south and nearly surround the strategic nation of Kuwait. That would put tremendous pressure on another American ally and raise the stakes for control of the Persian Gulf.

The Saudis understand that the only power that can enforce some sort of coordinated security and keep Iraq from flying apart is the United States and its strategic allies in the Coalition. Our disappearance would fulfill all of the gloomy prophecies being offered as analysis now, and will create a vortex in the region that could easily touch off the war that critics want to avoid.


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