Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Looming US-Saudi Confrontation?

Dan Murphy of the CSM reports on how members of Iraq's Sunni tribes (largely from Anbar province in the west) are funnelling weapons - and warriors - to the Sunni rebels who are trying to take down the Shi'i Iran-backed Assad regime in Syria.  These Iraq Sunni tribesmen have themselves been hammered in recent years by the Shi'a-dominated Maliki regime in Baghdad, which also supports Assad by and large, even if it does nonetheless call for violence in Syria to end.

Also bear in mind that the Saudi royal family - they of the very deep pockets - have set themselves up as the quartermasters of the Syrian Sunni rebels.  And the US is on board with those rebels being provided with the weapons they need to take out Assad.

But what happens if Assad indeed goes down, and well-armed Sunnis in Syria - some of them Syrian, some Iraqi, many of them tribal brothers - turn their attention to the afore-mentioned Shi'a-dominated Maliki regime in Iraq?  It's apparent that Maliki is not prepared to make significant political space for Sunni Arabs in his government.  It's also apparent that Iraq's Sunni Arabs largely resent the ascent of the Shi'a - and the US's role in that ascent - and are determined either to wrest back control of the state or else to cut themselves off from its control via partition or federalism.  Maliki has made it plain that he will find neither of those options acceptable.

It's also well known that the Saudi royals detest the idea of a Shi'a- (and Iran-)dominated Iraq.  The Shi'a are heretics in the eyes of the Wahhabi religious leaders who underpin the al-Sauds' legitimacy as rulers.

So . . . what happens when well-armed and battle-tested Sunni fighters, likely with Saudi backing, turn their attention to Iraq?  Could Maliki's military deal with that?

And how might the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq's north respond to a resurgence of Iraq's Sunni, at whose hands the Kurds historically have suffered so severely?

Does the US hedge its bets?  Does it rush military aid to Maliki to counter a Sunni resurgence - and in the process, reassure the US's long-time Kurdish allies?  Or does it ditch Maliki in favor of a Sunni resurgence that might lead to a reconstructed Sunni Arab bulwark against Shi'i Persian Iran?  The Three Amigos (McCain, Lieberman, Graham) could tout this as a perfect opportunity to re-insert a US military presence into Iraq - specifically, into a Kurdistan that would be highly concerned about Sunni spill-over.  

And, of course, throwing Maliki under the bus would earn the US the gratitude - and freely flowing oil - of the Saudis.

It would also put paid to the idea of a unitary state of Iraq.

Again, to channel Gen. Petraeus: tell me how this ends.

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