Saudi Arabia and the Iraq War
Nawaf Obaid, Managing Director of the Saudi National Security Assessment Project (SNSAP), a national security consultancy based in Riyadh, and Private Security and Energy Advisor to Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Ambassador to the United States, discussed the Iraq Project Report prepared by SNSAP in order to explore the ramifications of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the implications for Saudi national security.
Obaid presented his audience with various challenges confronting Iraq, including the persevering Sunni-led insurgency and the uncertainty regarding the stability of the new Iraqi government. He highlighted the importance of the three competing factions- the Kurds, the Shiites, and the Sunnis. He said that while Kurds comprise only 18-20% of the Iraqi population, their desire for independence and their "strong identity pose the greatest challenge to a cohesive and united Iraq."
Shiites are the majority of the Iraqi population at an estimated 65%. Their institutions are heavily influenced by Iran, and could pose another threat to the existence of a unified, Iraqi state. Shiites, like the Kurds, strive for complete autonomy in the southern region of Iraq and their powers are centered within two major militias, The Badr Organization of Reconstruction and Development and The Mahdi Army, which are both financed and supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Sunnis are the smallest group in Iraq, comprising 12-15% of the population. However, they have been the political rulers since the creation of Iraq. Most recently, during the Iraq War, they have managed to establish a strong insurgency, consisting mainly of former Officer Corps members and former Ba'athists. The insurgency has been believed to be composed of approximately 77,000 members, which Obaid noted was a conservative estimate. Although the insurgency exhibits marginal foreign influence, it is primarily "home-grown" and has become "indigenized and radicalized." Obaid asserted that Saudis form only the sixth largest contingent among the foreign insurgents, but is still a major concern for the Saudi government.
Obaid concluded with a very bleak outlook of the reality present on Iraqi soil. He stated that the insurgency will continue to expand, both in strength and in popularity and that "Iranian influence can be expected to increase as American influence wanes." Furthermore, Obaid views the current situation as leading to a civil war and the disintegration of the Iraqi state. The Saudi government has been in the process of implementing key policy recommendations, such as forgiving Iraqis of most of their debt, counter meddling by Iran, and better communication with the United States. But despite Obaid's pessimism towards the current situation, "[he hopes] that [the Saudis] are wrong."
Middle East Program
Drafted by Joyce Ibrahim