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Top Saudi Official Sounds Warning on Iraq Unity
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Top Saudi Official Sounds Warning on Iraq Unity

Middle East

Top Saudi Official Sounds Warning on Iraq Unity

Top Saudi Official Sounds Warning on Iraq Unity
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During a visit to Washington, D.C., Saudi Arabia's foreign minister warns that the situation in Iraq is disintegrating. Prince Saud al-Faisal said there are risks this could lead to a regional conflict.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Over the past few days, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, has been voicing concern about developments in Iraq. In remarks during visits to New York and Washington, Saud warned that Iraq may be headed toward disintegration. That, in turn, could have dangerous consequences throughout the region. Saudi Arabia is one of America's closest allies in the Arab world, but it opposed the war in Iraq. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

Saudi officials rarely go on the record about sensitive foreign policy issues during visits to the US. So when the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud, made bold public statement not once but twice in one week to American journalists and foreign policy experts, it created a stir. Saud's message both times was clear, that he's alarmed over what's happening in Iraq. He said that US policies in Iraq risk splintering the country, and that there didn't seem to be any dynamic to help pull the nation together. Chas Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, says Saud is speaking for many governments in the region when he voices concern about Iraq.

Former Ambassador CHAS FREEMAN (Former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia): There is a danger that it may be headed into some 21st-century version of the Spanish Civil War, in which struggles among Iraqis and against the occupation draw in outside powers more and more; not just jihadis, but the Turks, the Iranians, ultimately the Saudis.

NORTHAM: Saud specifically mentioned Tehran and its influence among many Shiites in Iraq, particularly in the southern part of the country, which shares a border with Saudi Arabia. Youssef Ibrahim, a Middle East consultant, says if a sectarian war develops in Iraq, it could have huge consequences for the Saudis.

Mr. YOUSSEF IBRAHIM (Middle East Consultant): Saudi Arabia has a substantial number of Shiites in the oil-producing provinces of Dhahran. They have not been treated kindly over the years, and any suggestion of a government next door that favors Shiites over Sunnis, for example, would get the Saudis very nervous about two things: first, the rebellion among their own Shiites; and, secondly, that it should transfer itself into sabotaging the oil facilities.

NORTHAM: Ibrahim says the Saudis are also confused over US objectives in Iraq, as well as a lack of any clear exit strategy and a growing sense that the American military is losing control of the situation there. Judith Kipper, the director of the Middle East Forum at the Council on Foreign Relations, says there has long been an understanding that Saudi Arabia will be protected by the US, but Kipper says that could be jeopardized by circumstances beyond American control.

Ms. JUDITH KIPPER (Director, Middle East Forum, Council on Foreign Relations): The kinds of threats that might come from a chaotic Iraq or has a long civil war, those kind of threats nobody can protect against because they are very toxic in the region, and that is not something that the American security umbrella for Saudi Arabia is going to be able to cope with.

NORTHAM: Prince Saud said that he discussed Iraq with officials in the Bush administration, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He said they tried to provide reassurance by pointing out that there had been elections in Iraq and that a constitution had been hammered out, even though it was one that left the Sunnis deeply disappointed. Saud argued that a constitution wasn't enough to bring Iraqis together. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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