Saudis warn region is on brink of war
By Joel Brinkley in Washington
Iraq is hurtling towards disintegration, and could drag the region into war, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, believes.
“There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together,” he said on Thursday. “All the dynamics are pulling the country apart.”
Prince Saud said he was so concerned that he was taking this message “to everyone who will listen” in the Bush Administration.
His remarks, some of the most pessimistic public comments on Iraq by a Middle East leader in recent months, were in stark contrast to the generally upbeat assessments offered by the White House and the Pentagon.
Prince Saud, in Washington for meetings with Administration officials, blamed several US decisions for the slide towards disintegration, though he did not refer to the Bush Administration directly.
High among them was designating “every Sunni as a Baathist criminal”.
Saudi Arabia styles itself as the capital and protector of Sunni Islam, and the prince’s remarks – at times harsh and at other moments careful – were emblematic of the complicated Saudi-US relationship.
An Administration official said the US “values and respects” the prince’s view, “and we all share a common concern for the future and stability of Iraq”.
Prince Saud, who said he met the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, last week, said American officials generally responded to his warnings by telling him that the US successfully carried off the Iraqi elections, and “they say the same things about the constitution” and the broader situation in Iraq now.
“But what I am trying to do is say that unless something is done to bring Iraqis together, elections alone won’t do it. A constitution alone won’t do it,” he said.
A son of the late King Faisal who has been foreign minister for 30 years, the prince said he sits on a council of Iraq’s neighbours – Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – and their main worry was that the potential for the disintegration of Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish states would “bring other countries in the region into the conflict.
“This is a very dangerous situation,” Prince Saud said, “a very threatening situation.”
Turkey, he noted, has long threatened to send troops into northern Iraq if the Kurds there declare independence. He said Iran was sending money and weapons into the Shiite-controlled south of Iraq and would probably step up its involvement should the south become independent.
■ An American think tank says the US and Iraqi governments have overstated the number of foreign fighters in Iraq, “feeding the myth” that they are the backbone of the insurgency.
Foreign militants – mainly from Algeria, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – account for less than 10 per cent of the estimated 30,000 insurgents, the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies said.
The New York Times, The Guardian
– Iraq’s most influential Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has urged his followers to adopt a draft constitution, offering crucial support for a document that would give legitimacy to the fledgling Iraqi government.
– The New York Civil Liberties Union has begun a campaign to help high school students remove their names from lists given to the US military in an effort aimed at ending aggressive tactics to recruit for the Iraq war.
– The CIA will do more of its own spying in countries where it has tended to rely on foreign intelligence services up to now, its director, Porter Goss, said.