Reuters: Saudi Arabia fears the Iraq conflict has sapped America’s ability to guarantee Gulf Arab security and breathed new life into the threat from Iran, according to analysts. By Andrew Hammond
RIYADH, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia fears the Iraq conflict has sapped America’s ability to guarantee Gulf Arab security and breathed new life into the threat from Iran, according to analysts.
The war toppled Saddam Hussein, once seen by Washington and its Sunni Arab allies as a bulwark against the influence of Shi’ite Iran, and replaced his minority Sunni Muslim regime with a coalition dominated by parties from Iraq’s Shi’ite majority.
The Iraqi Shi’ites, some allied to Tehran, have consolidated their power, and fighting between Sunni insurgents and Shi’ite paramilitaries has driven the country to the brink of civil war.
Saudi Arabia fears the violence spreading over its own borders. Its own Shi’ite minority is concentrated in the oil-rich eastern region near Iran and Iraq.
Saudi policy wants to ensure that the U.S. security umbrella in the region remains in place to protect the world’s biggest oil exporter from radical and envious neighbours, Western diplomats in Riyadh said.
“Even more so now because of Iraq — there is increased Iranian influence in the region,” one said.
In addition to 134,000 troops in Iraq, the United States maintains a significant military presence in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, which houses the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
“The bottom line is that the Saudis are more loudly sending signals that they do not want the U.S. to retreat in haste” from Iraq, said analyst Neil Partrick of the Economic Intelligence Unit.
The United States accuses Iran of planning a covert nuclear weapons programme. Iran denies this.
“The disinclination to … ‘give’ Iraq to Iran could yet see a direct U.S.-Iranian confrontation as events in Iraq bring them into direct fighting,” Partrick said.