November 21, 2015


Saudi Arabia is part of the problem and part of the solution to global jihad (Bruce Riedel, 11/20/15, Brookings)

Earlier this week, Secretary Clinton specifically called on Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the only two Wahhabi states in the world, to do a better job of ensuring their citizens do not fund terrorist groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic state. It was an unusual public admonition from a senior American policymaker that the Kingdom is both part of the problem and part of the solution to the global jihad. The Secretary is right to call for a more candid and decisive dialogue between Washington and Riyadh on this subject. Usually it is discussed behind closed doors, but it needs more transparency.

Saudi Arabia has been a very effective ally against al-Qaida and related groups for over a decade, ever since Osama bin Laden called for the overthrow of the House of Saud and began a violent campaign in the Kingdom to bring them down. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, the subject of my recent Brookings Essay, led the Saudi battle against bin Laden. He also leads efforts to stop private funding of terrorists. Much of the public discourse on Saudi links to jihad are hysterical and exaggerated.

But as Clinton's remarks suggest, more needs to be done. Saudi sources remain major funders of groups like the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e Taiba in Pakistan. Some accounts suggest Saudi money has gone to al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front. Even al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which tried to assassinate Prince Nayef more than once, has been an unintended beneficiary of Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen because it fights the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

What the Saudis Miss When They Focus on Iran (CAROL GIACOMO, 11/20/15, NY Times)

Iran, with tentacles in many regional conflicts, is a big challenge for Saudi Arabia. But Riyadh's single-minded focus is diverting attention from other pressing issues, some of which are much closer to home. The Sunni terrorists of the Islamic State pose the most direct threat. In the past year, the group's affiliates have claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in the country's Eastern Province, where a lot of the country's minority Shiites live. Many of the victims have been Shiites, fueling sectarian tensions.

I visited the region last month, shortly after a gunman linked to an Islamic State affiliate killed five people at a meeting hall associated with a mosque in the city of Shaihat. On Wednesday in the same city, gunmen killed two members of the Saudi security forces. Many Shiite residents, already alienated from the government, are fearful. "They feel they are being targeted for their faith," a Saudi journalist said. The Saudis' Wahhabi version of Islam, which underpins the conservative government and society, considers Shiites infidels, and anti-Shiite propaganda is common.

The government has done little to ease tensions. Reacting to the attacks, Shiites requested a law against what they described as racism. The Shura Council, an advisory body appointed by the king, refused to even allow it to be discussed.

Posted by at November 21, 2015 8:29 AM