America's $20 Billion Mistake
Sunni militants in Iraq are getting bolder and bloodier in their attacks against Shiites, and nothing is sacred. Less than a month ago, they attacked the shrine of Imam Asgari, the 11th Shiite Imam, who was also the father of Imam Mahdi, the Shiite messiah. These attacks on holy sites are particularly worrisome to the United States because they pack the emotional power that could trigger the outright civil war in Iraq that would utterly subvert the American effort to create a functioning Iraqi government and military.
Not only is the Saudi government refusing taking concrete action to stop the inflammatory provocation to Sunni terrorist groups - al-Qaida among them - to commit the attacks which are damaging prospects for peace and stability in Iraq. In fact, the Saudis have been the unpunished sponsors of terror in Iraq.
This fact became more clear-cut than ever with the eye-opening L.A. Times report earlier this month, revealing that about 45% of all foreign militants targeting both U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces hailed from Saudi Arabia.
Not only are religious clerics, Saudi banks, and Saudi individuals involved in such activities, according to an interview given by Prince Hassan of Jordan to Al Jazeera earlier this year -- members of the Saudi National Security Council have been directly funding Sunni militants in Iraq.
The recent news that the US is considering selling $20 billion worth of weaponry to Saudi Arabia, smacks of short sightedness on the part of Washington. Instead of twisting Saudi Arabia's arm to stop its sponsorship of terrorism in Iraq, the US is rewarding the regime with a massive arms contract.
It may be true that both countries harbor legitimate concerns about Iran's growing military might. But by not forcing the Saudis to play ball in Iraq, the US is throwing away the results of four years of hard work and sacrifice in Iraq, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi lives and billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars.
In addition to infuriating the Shiites and encouraging the Sunni militants, the proposed Saudi arms deal has also legitimized Iran's efforts in southern Iraq. By arming the Saudis, the Iraqi Shiites, whom the US counted on as potential allies, will now see Iran as their only true ally, and increase their military and political cooperation with Tehran.
What the US and the Saudis should also not forget is that Shiite populated areas such as Najaf and Muthana in Iraq border Saudi Arabia.
Should the US failure to stop Saudi Arabia's sponsorship of terror, it will lead to more attacks against Iraqi Shiites, especially against shrines of Imam Ali and Hussein (sanctioned by the Saudi fatwas.) And instead of retaliating against Iraqi Sunnis and risking civil war, Shiite elements could start attacking Saudi border areas.
This could force up energy prices, thus damaging the US economy, while putting more money into the pockets of Iran, as 80% of its export income comes from the sale of oil.
The window of opportunity on reigning in the Saudis is closing. On July 19, a number of Saudi clerics, issued a fatwa calling for Sunni militants in Iraq, to attack the Imam Ali and Imam Hossein shrines in Iraq. Based in Najaf and Karbala, these are the two most important religious sites in the Shiite world.
Any attack against either site would make it very difficult to avert a massive Shiite backlash which could very well lead to civil war.
Now that the Al Qaeda militants, have the religious permission to carryout such a devastating blow, all they need is the right equipment and opportunity to carry it out. If such equipment arrives, one can almost count on the fact that it will be bankrolled by Saudi Arabia.
Since the start of the second Gulf war, many analysts and former politicians have accused the White House of acting in haste and without proper planning about the consequences of their moves. By rewarding the Saudis, rather than punishing them, it seems that the White House has still not learned from its past mistakes.
Meir Javedanfar is the co-author of the book %%AMAZON=0786718870 "The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran.%%" He runs Middle East Economic and Political Analysis (Meepas)