Saudis Reportedly Funding Iraqi Sunnis
Associated Press | December 08, 2006
CAIRO, Egypt - Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash.
Saudi government officials deny that any money from their country is being sent to Iraqis fighting the government and the U.S.-led coalition.
But the U.S. Iraq Study Group report said Saudis are a source of funding for Sunni Arab insurgents. Several truck drivers interviewed by The Associated Press described carrying boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, money they said was headed for insurgents.
Two high-ranking Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of 96 because of the issue's sensitivity, told the AP most of the Saudi money comes from private donations, called zaqat, collected for Islamic causes and charities.
Some Saudis appear to know the money is headed to Iraq's insurgents, but others merely give it to clerics who channel it to anti-coalition forces, the officials said.
In one recent case, an Iraqi official said $25 million in Saudi money went to a top Iraqi Sunni cleric and was used to buy weapons, including Strela, a Russian shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. The missiles were purchased from someone in Romania, apparently through the black market, he said.
Overall, the Iraqi officials said, money has been pouring into Iraq from oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a Sunni bastion, since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq toppled the Sunni-controlled regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Saudi officials vehemently deny their country is a major source of financial support for the insurgents.
"There isn't any organized terror finance, and we will not permit any such unorganized acts," said Brig. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry. About a year ago the Saudi government set up a unit to track any "suspicious financial operations," he said.
But the Iraq Study Group said "funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states."
Saudi officials say they cracked down on zakat abuses, under pressure from the United States, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
The Iraqi officials, however, said some funding goes to Iraq's Sunni Arab political leadership, who then disburse it. Other money, they said, is funneled directly to insurgents. The distribution network includes Iraqi truck and bus drivers.
Several drivers interviewed by the AP in Middle East capitals said Saudis have been using religious events, like the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and a smaller pilgrimage, as cover for illicit money transfers. Some money, they said, is carried into Iraq on buses with returning pilgrims.
"They sent boxes full of dollars and asked me to deliver them to certain addresses in Iraq," said one driver, who gave his name only as Hussein, out of fear of reprisal. "I know it is being sent to the resistance, and if I don't take it with me, they will kill me."
He was told what was in the boxes, he said, to ensure he hid the money from authorities at the border.
The two Iraqi officials would not name specific Iraqi Sunnis who have received money from Saudi Arabia. But Iraq issued an arrest warrant for Harith al-Dhari, a Sunni opponent of the Iraqi government, shortly after he visited Saudi Arabia in October. He was accused of sectarian incitement.
Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East. The Iraq Study Group report noted that its government has assisted the U.S. military with intelligence on Iraq.
But Saudi citizens have close tribal ties with Sunni Arabs in Iraq, and sympathize with their brethren in what they see as a fight for political control - and survival - with Iraq's Shiites.
The Saudi government is determined to curb the growing influence of its chief rival in the region, Iran. Tehran is closely linked to Shiite parties that dominate the Iraqi government.
Saudi officials say the kingdom has worked with all sides to reconcile Iraq's warring factions. They have, they point out, held talks in Saudi Arabia with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia is accused of killing Sunnis.
These officials say zakat donations are now channeled through supervised bank accounts. Cash donation boxes, once prevalent in supermarkets and shopping malls, have been eliminated.
Still, Iraq's foreign minister expressed concern about the influence of neighboring Sunni states at a recent Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo.
"We hope that Saudi Arabia will keep the same distance from each and all Iraqi parties," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari later told the AP.
Last month, the New York Times reported that a classified U.S. government report said Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgency had become self-sufficient financially, raising millions from oil smuggling, kidnapping and Islamic charities. The report did not say whether any money came from Saudi Arabia.
Allegations the insurgents have purchased shoulder-fired Strela missiles raise concerns that they are obtaining increasingly sophisticated weapons.
On Nov. 27, a U.S. Air Force F-16 jet crashed while flying in support of American soldiers fighting Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent hotbed. The U.S. military said it had no information about the cause of the crash. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman, said he would be surprised if the jet was shot down because F-16's have not encountered weapons capable of taking them down in Iraq.
But last week, a spokesman for Saddam's ousted Baath party claimed that fighters armed with a Strela missile had shot down the jet.
"We have stockpiles of Strelas and we are going to surprise them (the Americans)," Khudair al-Murshidi, the spokesman told the AP in Damascus, Syria. He would not say how the Strelas were obtained.
Saddam's army had Strelas; it is not known how many survived the 2003 war. The Strela is a shoulder-fired, low-altitude system with a passive infrared guidance system.
The issue of Saudi funding for the insurgency could gain new prominence as the Bush administration reviews its Iraq policy, especially if it seeks to engage Iran and Syria in peace efforts.
Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, wrote in a recent leaked memo that Washington should "step up efforts to get Saudi Arabia to take a leadership role in supporting Iraq, by using its influence to move Sunni populations out of violence into politics."
Last week, a Saudi who headed a security consulting group close to the Saudi government, Nawaf Obaid, wrote in the Washington Post that Saudi Arabia would use money, oil and support for Sunnis to thwart Iranian efforts to dominate Iraq if American troops pulled out. The Saudi government denied the report and fired Obaid.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press .
George Will: The problem with Iraq is that they're all savages
George Will, kvetching about Rumsfeld's parting shot, had this to say:
It is beyond dispiriting that after 45 months of war an American official can think that this semi-genocidal conflict over the survival of groups divided about the meaning of God's will can now be dampened by clever economics.
And this, about the Baker-Hamilton report:
The ISG's central conclusion, important to say with the group's imprimatur even though the conclusion is obvious, is that the problem with Iraq is the Iraqis, a semi-nation of peoples who are very difficult to help.
Portraying the Iraqis as a bunch of irrational, bloodthirsty savages -- people fighting over some religious arcana who are "very difficult to help" -- is the latest craze on the right. Last week, the ever-charming Bill O'Reilly said:
Do I care if the Sunnis and Shiites kill each other in Iraq? No… Let them kill each other. Maybe they'll all kill each other, and then we can have a decent country in Iraq.
This is a particularly disgusting bit of historical revisionism, but it's also quite familiar. It recalls 19th-century Europeans (and Americans) who embraced the idea that colonized peoples were infantile and incapable of self-governance. It shares the same roots as Jim Crow, which was largely justified by the idea that the newly freed slaves were incapable of functioning without the guidance of their former masters. It's social Darwinism, as clear as day.
The narrative is intended to shift blame for the catastrophic sequence of events in Iraq from the policy-makers who started it to the Iraqis themselves. It's also simply wrong -- Iraq was a functional, modern and secular society before the Iran-Iraq war, and at least a functional one before the 2003 invasion. The chaos that followed resulted from choices made by the administration, not some deep-seated dysfunction in Iraq's culture.
Policy-makers in Washington made a choice to not only remove Saddam Hussein and the senior officials loyal to him, but to dismantle that functional state from top to bottom -- sacking the army, the police and hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats who kept the country running.
There was no strategic imperative to do so. The most likely explanation for that policy choice is that there was a recognition that the Iraqi civil service would be a source of resistance to the economic "shock therapy" -- the illegal restructuring of Iraq's political economy -- upon which the administration insisted. (The other viable explanation is, of course, that it was based on rank stupidity, and I won't discount that lightly.)
At the same time, a decision was made to run with the "Rumsfeld Doctrine" -- go in with a small army and rely on hi-tech gizmos to do the job. So there weren't enough troops to maintain order, and the troops that were there were trained in combat, not civil enforcement.
That resulted in a chain of events that led Iraq to what it has become today -- make no mistake about that. There was a security vacuum, and into it stepped armed militias. Iraqi nationalism -- strong before the war -- gave way to the overlapping identity-based conflicts that make up the maelstrom we see before us now.
This was all predictable, and in no way reflects on the nature of Iraq's culture or on the Iraqis themselves. Does Will believe for a second that the United States wouldn't devolve into civil strife of epic proportions if the entire infrastructure of the government were dismantled tomorrow, all the cops were sent home and only a small alien army were left in its place?
Consider what happened in New Orleans just weeks after its government was knocked out of commission: rumors -- unfounded it would turn out -- of marauding gangs of killers and rapists emerged and neighboring communities armed themselves and withdrew into their own little fortified towns. That was in just a small area of an otherwise functional country, and followed just days after the loss of government services. Jesus, look at the chaos that often goes down during a black-out, or following a major hurricane.
Viewed in that context, the Iraqis were actually quite slow to revert to a Hobbesian state of nature.
Copyright © Joshua Holland. Material presented on The Gadflyer is the opinion of the respective author and not that of The Gadflyer, the web host or any other entity.
Actually, the 'bad news' from Iraq is "significantly underreported"
Posted by Joshua Holland
at 10:51 AM on December 9, 2006.
Joshua Holland: I won't hold my breath waiting for the wingnuts to admit they're full of s**t ...
Image courtesy of some right-wing chucklehead with Photoshop.Breaking: Articles of Impeachment filed
Jan FrelConservative Senator: Iraq War may be "criminal" [VIDEO]
Just as a child -- say, an emotionally-fragile, mentally-challenged child -- might embrace a comforting blanky for protection against monsters lurking under the bed, so conservatives cling, desperately, to the idea that the media is exaggerating the extraordinary suckiness in Iraq in order to avoid facing the smoldering, blood-stained consequences of the invasion they championed with such zeal.
Consider this recent gem from Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush, in a post reacting to the Iraq Study Group's report [ht: Sadly, No!
[…The] report asserts things are deteriorating in Iraq: to me, this is just conforming the report to the phony story of Iraq produced by the MSM. I think it was more of a, "ya know, if we tell the truth about all the good things that are happening in Iraq, no one will believe us because the MSM has spent the past two years broadcasting enemy propaganda".
Yes, he is that dumb (Noonan trusts what Gavin at Sadly No! calls "an official Department of Defense 'information warfare' propaganda site
" for his info about Iraq).
Anyway, Editor and Publisher noted
that the Baker-Hamilton report has some bits that are sure to create some serious cognitive dissonance among the wing-nut set (ht: Steve Benen
[The report says], bluntly, that "there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq" by the U.S. military. "The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases," the report continues.
Looking at one day, the report found undercounting of violent attacks by more than 1000 percent.
"A murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack," the report explained." If we cannot determine the source of a sectarian attack, that assault does not make it into the database. A roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count. For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence [officially] reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence.
"Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals."
Baghdad and its environs are far too dangerous for most reporters to go visit, for example, hospitals or morgues in the country's worst hot spots -- most of the info we get from the media is based on these official data. So if the military is underreporting the 'bad news' the dreaded EM-ES-EM is as well.
And then there's the very real likelihood that the "good news" about the status of reconstruction projects in Iraq coming from USAID and other agencies is quite significantly overreported
. That suggests that, if anything, the commercial media is painting a better picture of Iraq than the facts on the ground warrant, which is a scary thought.
The right's ridiculously vitriolic reaction
to the Baker-Hamilton report is largely explained by the fact that it is blunt in its condemnation of the preznit's conduct of the war and that it calls for talking with Iran and Syria. But I would imagine that this part about the underreported violence has something to do with it as well.
Tagged as: right-wing
Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer
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