Monday, September 26, 2005

Saudis see US policy helping Iran make inroads in Iraq

Yahoo News:

Sun Sep 25, 6:23 PM ET

Saudi Arabia is concerned that US policies are helping Iran make inroads in Iraq through the Shiite community, raising fears Tehran may yet seek to extend its influence into Sunni-led Gulf neighbors.

"The kingdom fears that what is taking place in Iraq will lead to its partition and the consecration of sectarian divisions in a way threatening the country's Arab identity," a Saudi official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

The official accused Iran of "seeking to spread its influence in Iraq through the Shiite community," which forms a majority in the violence-wrecked country.

"US policy in Iraq is entrenching sectarian divisions and overlooking Iranian infiltration of the country," the official went on to charge, after Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal publicly articulated similar fears in the United States earlier this week.

Sunni Arabs who dominated Iraq under the regime of ousted president Saddam Hussein found themselves increasingly marginalized as parliament approved a draft constitution despite their objections.

Sunni extremists waging an anti-US insurgency have called for a boycott of an October 15 referendum on the charter and threatened to kill anyone taking part, while most Sunni organizations have urged a "no" vote, mainly because they distrust federal provisions in the draft.

Saud voiced concern at purported Iranian military, financial and political meddling in Iraq, warning that the country's potential partition into a Kurdish state in the north, a Sunni state in the center and a Shiite state in the south would "bring other countries in the region into the conflict."

"There is no dynamic now pulling the nation together," the Saudi chief diplomat told reporters in Washington Thursday. "All the dynamics are pulling the country apart." Saud blamed much of Iraq's ills on US decisions such as designating "every Sunni as a Baathist criminal."

He had earlier argued that Washington was effectively handing Iraq to Iran by pursuing a policy that deepens sectarian divisions.

Tehran on Saturday dismissed Riyadh's concerns.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran does not expect such remarks from its friends at such a sensitive time in the region, and considers them surprising and irrational," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said.

But a member of the Saudi appointed Shura (consultative) Council accused the Shiite-majority government of Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari of seeking to extend "Shiite control over the country, or most of it, in complicity with Iran."

Jaafari's government is "encouraging the Americans to be hostile to the Sunnis so as to (cover up for) Iranian infiltration," Mohammad Al Zalfa told AFP.

Iran is taking advantage of "the catastrophic situation in Iraq to boost its influence there and eventually settle scores with Washington if they clash (over Tehran's nuclear program), at the expense of the Iraqi people," Zalfa said.

The Islamic Republic "also aims to become the strongest regional power, and this worries Gulf (Arab) states," he said.

Saudi political analyst Turki al-Hamad said Iran was encouraging the development of a "Shiite identity among Iraq's Shiite Arabs" that would make them look to Iran for leadership.

This is "alarming for the peoples and governments of Gulf Arab states" because Iran will go on to do the same with Shiite minorities in the region, he said.

And it is bound to affect ties between Tehran and its Arab neighbors across the Gulf, Hamad added.

Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab states have Shiite minorities of varying sizes, while Shiites are a majority in Bahrain.

Saudi Shiites, who make up about 10 percent of the population, are concentrated in the kingdom's oil-rich Eastern Province.

A Saudi-based Arab diplomat pointed to a "chill" in Riyadh's relations with the Jaafari government.

The Saudi government has yet to give the green light to the reopening of the Iraqi embassy in Riyadh despite the fact that an Iraqi technical team finished rehabilitation work on the premises months ago, he told AFP.


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