Saudis and Iran
prepare to do battle over corpse of Iraq
By Philip Sherwell in New York, Sunday Telegraph
Telegraph" -- -- The gulf's two military
powers, Sunni-Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, are
lining up behind their warring religious brethren in
Iraq in a potentially explosive showdown, as
expectations grow in both countries that America is
preparing a pull-out of its troops.
The Saudis are understood to be considering providing
Sunni military leaders with funding, logistical support
and even arms, as Iran already does for Shia militia in
The strategy — outlined in
an article last week by Nawaf
Obaid, a senior security adviser to the kingdom's
government — risks spiralling into a proxy war between
Saudi and Iranian-backed factions in the next
development in Iraq's vicious sectarian conflict.
Saudi Arabia, America's closest ally in the Arab world,
is considering backing anti-US insurgents because it is
so alarmed that Sunnis in Iraq will be left to their
fate — military and political — at the hands of the Shia
However, a Saudi government spokesman said yesterday
that Mr Obaid's view "does not reflect the kingdom's
policy, which uphold the security, unity and stability
of Iraq with all its sects."
President George Bush sent vice-president Dick Cheney to
Riyadh last weekend after the Saudis demanded high-level
talks about their concerns. They told him Iran was
trying to establish itself as the dominant regional
power through its influence in Iraq, Lebanon and the
Saudi fears were strengthened as it emerged that some
senior US intelligence officials are urging the Bush
administration to abandon stalled attempts to reach a
compromise with Sunni dissidents and adopt a
controversial "pick a winner" strategy instead, giving
priority to Shia and Kurd political factions.
The proposal is also known as the "80 per cent solution"
since the Sunnis, who ruled the country under Saddam
Hussein, comprise just 20 per cent of Iraq's 26 million
population. It has been put forward as part of a crash
White House review of Iraq strategy. Its backers claim
that ambitious attempts to woo anti-US Sunni insurgents
have failed, and now risk alienating Shia leaders as
well, leaving the US without strong political allies in
As the frenzy of diplomatic activity intensifies, the
Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel of foreign policy
experts, this week plans to recommend the US withdraws
nearly all of combat troops by early 2008.
Although President Bush continues to insist he will not
tie US policy to timetables for withdrawal, the panel's
recommendations will fuel the belief that a major US
pull-out will be under way soon.
The issue was at the fore yesterday when 40 people were
killed and more than 80 wounded after three car bombs
exploded in Baghdad. The attacks came after US and Iraqi
forces raided insurgent strongholds in the city of
In Teheran, Iranian leaders have made clear that they
believe they are the big winners from America's
involvement in Iraq. "The kind of service that the
Americans, with all their hatred, have done us — no
superpower has ever done anything similar," Mohsen Rezai,
secretary-general of the powerful Expediency Council
that advises the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei,
boasted on state television recently.
"America destroyed all our enemies in the region. It
destroyed the Taliban. It destroyed Saddam Hussein… The
Americans got so stuck in the soil of Iraq and
Afghanistan that if they manage to drag themselves back
to Washington in one piece, they should thank God.
America presents us with an opportunity rather than a
threat — not because it intended to, but because it
miscalculated. They made many mistakes".
Iran also watched with pleasure as America, Britain,
France and Germany failed to persuade Russia and China
to sign up to a package of sanctions against Iran in a
draft United Nations Security Council resolution. The
West wanted to punish Tehran for pushing ahead with
banned uranium enrichment for its nuclear programme. The
US is now drawing up plans for a diplomatic "coalition
of the willing" to pursue sanctions outside UN auspices.
The Iraq Study Group is also expected to recommend
opening dialogue with Iran and Syria over Iraq, a move
being resisted by hardliners who rule out talks with two
regimes that are fomenting violence. However, in a break
with previous policy, Mr Bush will meet tomorrow in
Washington with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme
Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a party
closely tied to Iran.
The talks are part of US efforts to strengthen links
with Shia politicians and to undercut the influence of
Moqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric and militia leader
on whose support the prime minister Nuri al-Maliki
The meeting will fuel Sunni fears they are being
sidelined even though the White House also announced
plans for future talks with the country's Sunni deputy
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2006