July 14, 2009 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 531

Iraqi Commentators: Saudi Arabia Is Behind Terror in Iraq – And Will Never Accept Shi'ite Rule There

July 14, 2009 | By D. Hazan*
Saudi Arabia, Iraq | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 531

Currently, Iraqi-Saudi relations are at a nadir. While Iraq has time and again officially reiterated its desire to strengthen relations and resolve disagreements with Saudi Arabia, the Saudi response has been less than enthusiastic. The Saudis have repeatedly rejected Iraq's proposal that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki visit Saudi Arabia or meet with Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz, and have procrastinated over opening a Saudi embassy in Iraq - even though Iraq has already sent an ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi King 'Abdallah refused to meet with Al-Maliki on the periphery of the March 30, 2009 Doha summit, on the grounds that Saudi Arabia was "not sure that true conciliation has indeed been achieved in Iraq" and that "Al-Maliki has not kept his promise to appease all political forces in Iraq and to involve them [in the political process]." [1] This statement is a manifestation of the conflict between the Saudis and the Shi'ite Iraqi government, with the Saudis having set themselves up as protectors of Iraq's Sunni minority.

The Saudis assume that Iran is influencing the Al-Maliki government and fear the spread of the Iranian/Shi'ite influence in Iraq. Thus, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to the U.S. and Britain, has called "to bring Iraq back to the Arab world at any cost, so that it can play its natural role in the Arab nation and serve as a defensive wall against [outside] interference in its own affairs and in the affairs of the [Arab] nation." [2]

In response, Iraqis have recently been attacking Saudi Arabia, depicting it as the main force the destabilization of Iraq. The first to attack Saudi Arabia were Iraqi press commentators, who accused the Saudis of helping terrorists infiltrate Iraq and of being behind suicide attacks carried out on Iraqi soil - especially in light of recent fatwas issued in Saudi Arabia permitting suicide attacks in Iraq as "jihad against the occupiers." Other commentators accused Saudi Arabia of looking down on Iraq and of refusing to accept its Shi'ite government, and called on Al-Maliki to desist from further attempts to visit Saudi Arabia or to meet with its king, and called these attempts humiliating to Al-Maliki, the Iraqi people, and the government. However, one commentator called on Iraq to seek conciliation with its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, and to try to allay their fears, even if those countries were indeed interfering in Iraq's domestic affairs.

Unlike the commentators, Iraqi officials have refrained from making explicit allegations against Saudi Arabia. On April 18, 2009, Nouri Al-Maliki called on the countries neighboring Iraq, without mentioning names, to stop supporting terrorism and to show good will towards Iraq. "Stop those who are harming Iraq [via our shared borders], lest Iraq be compelled to defend itself," he said, adding: "Declare your intentions to forge friendly, loving, positive relations [with Iraq]," and "Offer us one finger, so we can offer you our hand [in return]." [3]

However, as terrorism in Iraq increased in the lead-up to the June 30, 2009U.S. withdrawal from Iraq's cities, official Iraqi sources began to openly accuse Saudi Arabia of aiding terrorism in Iraq in order to prevent the withdrawal.Hadi Al-Ameri, chairman of Iraq's parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, accused Saudi Arabia of heading a group of countries in the region opposed to the withdrawal. He said that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the recent bombings in Iraq, and must take a stand against them. He added that the bombings had been financed from outside the country, and that the perpetrators were members of Al-Qaeda and the Iraqi Ba’th Party. Al-Ameri demanded that a firm position be taken against the countries supporting terrorism, indicating that fatwas declaring Shi'ites as apostates issued recently by Saudi clerics had made them targets for violence. [4]

Saudi Arabia, for its part, accused pro-Iranian forces and elements in Iraq of attempting to dissociate Iraq from its Arab dimension and to subjugate it to Iran, and claiming that the statistics showing that Saudis constitute a high proportion of terrorists in Iraq were distorted.

Following is a brief overview of recent developments in this matter, as reflected in the Iraqi and other Arab press over the past several months:

Official Iraqi Line: "An Iraq-Saudi Security Agreement Will Be Signed in the Near Future"

Al-Maliki's national security advisor, Muwaffaq Al-Rubaie, stated that Iraq wished to tighten relations with Saudi Arabia and to resolve all disagreements between it and Iraq in a way that would serve the interests of both countries and their people. He added: "In the near future, some important developments will take place in these relations, since both leaders are sincerely interested in [promoting] them." Al-Rubaie further stated that the two countries had begun discussing the draft of an agreement submitted by Saudi Arabia, so as to draw up a framework for future cooperation and to decide the fate of Iraqi prisoners held by Saudi Arabia and Saudi prisoners held by Iraq. [5]

Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad Al-Bulani stated that an Iraqi-Saudi security agreement would be signed in the near future; the agreement would increase security cooperation between the two countries in fighting terrorism, organized crime, and arms smuggling, as well as in the extradition of wanted individuals and in the exchange of information. [6]

Ghanem Al-Jamili, Iraq's first ambassador to Riyadh in 18 years, stated on May 3, 2009 that the unresolved problems between Iraq and Saudi Arabia were not extensive, and that their shared border is more orderly than any other Iraqi border. In his estimation, it is only Iraq's domestic security situation that is keeping Saudi Arabia from opening an embassy in Baghdad. [7]

The Iraqi parliamentary human rights committee reported that an Iraqi-Saudi agreement had been recently signed for extraditing Saudi prisoners to Saudi Arabia. [8] Iraqi Immigration Minister 'Abd Al-Samad Rahman Sultan stated that Saudi Arabia is currently holding 1,000 Iraqis, most of them on charges of illegal entry into Saudi Arabia. [9] According to the Elaph website, "based on unofficial sources, Saudi Arabia is currently holding 800 Iraqis under arrest, while Iraq is holding 100 Saudis, most of them on charges of terrorist involvement or illegal entry into Iraq." [10] A senior security official at the Saudi Interior Ministry said that the Iraqi-Saudi exchange of detainees exchange reflected a joint effort to strengthen security cooperation between them and to lay the groundwork for an exchange of prisoners. He claimed, however, that except for eight Saudi detainees extradited to Iraq in September 2008 in return for 16 Iraqi detainees, there had been no exchange of detainees between the two countries. [11]

The Saudi Foreign Ministry denied a recent Iraqi press report that Saudi Foreign Minister Sa'ud Al-Faisal would be visiting Iraq soon, and stated that such a visit was not on the minister's agenda. [12]

Iraq's Failed Attempts to Arrange an Al-Maliki/King Abdallah Meeting

However, Saudi-Iraqi relations have remained at their lowest ebb, and Iraq's efforts to arrange a meeting between the Saudi king and the Iraqi prime minister have proved fruitless. [13] A source associated with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Rafi Al-'Issawi reported on April 2, 2009 that Al-'Issawi intended to travel to Saudi Arabia to fulfill the 'umra commandment (a pilgrimage to Mecca performed apart from the hajj) and to try to persuade Saudi Arabia to consent to a visit from Prime Minister Al-Maliki. Previously, as has already been mentioned, King 'Abdallah had refused to meet Al-Maliki on the periphery of the March 30, 2009 Arab summit 2009 in Doha, on the grounds that he was "not sure that true conciliation has indeed been achieved in Iraq" and that "Al-Maliki has not kept his promise to appease all political forces in Iraq and to involve them [in the political process]." [14]

Al-Maliki's media advisor Yassin Majid denied reports linking Al-'Issawi's visit to Saudi Arabia to Iraq's attempts to arrange a meeting between Al-Maliki and Saudi senior officials, and stated that Al-'Issawi had visited Saudi Arabia in order to fulfill the commandment of 'umra. Regarding Al-Maliki's failure to meet with the Saudi king at the Doha summit, Majid stated that there had been no attempt on the eve of the summit to arrange such a meeting, and that as a result Al-Maliki and King 'Abdallah had merely exchanged a ceremonial handshake, as is the norm. Majid contended that Iraq sought to strengthen relations with all Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, provided that such relations were founded on mutual respect and on the principle that no country would either interfere with another's internal affairs, or pressure another. He added that such relations must not be based not on Iraq's weakness but rather on its strength, which he said was beginning to emerge as its security situation stabilized and due to the government's successful endeavors. [15]

Iraqi Journalist: Saudi Arabia Will Never Accept Al-Maliki - Because He's a Shi'ite

In response to these reports, in an April 4, 2009 article posted at, Iraqi reformist and liberal writer Dr. 'Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein, who resides in London, criticized the Saudi regime for religious and ethnic discrimination against all non-Wahhabis, and for aiding terrorism. He stated that the Saudi regime abhorred Iraq's democracy and that only the restoration of the Sunni Ba'th rule in the country would satisfy it. He wrote: "It must be noted that this is not the first time King 'Abdallah has refused to meet with Al-Maliki. The same thing happened… over a year ago, when Saudi Arabia refused to receive Al-Maliki on [other] hollow pretexts…

"Relations between Iraq and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia have never been good… The only time they improved at all was during the dark era of Saddam's Ba'th party, which caused the Iraqi people great suffering."

Dr. Hussein ridiculed Saudi Arabia's excuses for refusing to meet with Al-Maliki: "Fancy the Saudi king being concerned that all political forces should be involved in running [Iraq] - when it is well known that in his country the ruling family has usurped all authority, precluding even its own people from participating in government - not to mention treating members of non-Wahhabi ethnic groups as [the lowest caste]… [In contrast,] the Iraqi government is the only government in the Arab world, and in the [entire] Middle East, elected by the people in free elections…"

Dr. Hussein further stated: "The true reason for the Saudi king's refusal to meet with Al-Maliki is his disgraceful ethnic [bias] and his abhorrence of Iraqi democracy. The Saudi regime will never be satisfied with a government in Iraq that comprises all elements of the Iraqi people… Has a Shi'ite Iraqi no right to be president in his country, if he has attained the post via fair elections?... The Saudi regime can envision conciliation [with Iraq] only if the fascist Ba'th regains power…"

Dr. Hussein emphasized the hypocrisy and double standard of the Saudi attitude towards terrorism. He wrote: "It should be noted that every year the Saudi king doles out tens of millions of dollars to convene summits for what is known as the 'interfaith dialogue,' so as to render [the Saudi regime's] ugly face less disgusting and to wash it clean of its aid to the Wahhabi terrorism that is ravaging the world… The Arab, and especially Saudi, media calls terrorism in Iraq 'jihad' and 'national resistance' - but when these very organizations carry out the same [kind of] operations in their own countries, they call it 'terrorism.'"

Dr. Hussein concluded: "The Saudi regime will not accept the situation in Iraq unless the Ba'th regains power… The Saudis will not accept Al-Maliki, or anyone else, unless he abolishes democracy and opens the door for the return of the Ba'th members…

"Thus, I call on Al-Maliki to stop trying to visit Saudi Arabia or to meet with the Saudi king - because these attempts humiliate himself, our people's honor, and our national government." [16]

Iraqi Liberal Daily Al-Ahali: The Problem is Saudi Arabia's Supercilious Attitude Towards the Other Arab Countries - Particularly Iraq

Kurdish political commentator 'Esam Al-Faili stated that Iraq's political ties with Arab and other countries are contingent on its domestic affairs, which he called "extremely complex," because all elements of Iraqi society have a national common ground, but the politicians elected to represent them do not agree among themselves. He claimed that Iraqi-Saudi relations began breaking down when the Saudi king refused to receive Al-Maliki.

Heval Zakhoyi, editor of the liberal Iraqi daily Al-Ahali, on the other hand, saw the problem in Iraqi-Saudi relations as stemming from the Saudis' illusory self-perception "as leader of the Arab and Islamic nation," and from its "constant presenting of itself as the central axis of the Arab [world]." He wrote: "Saudi Arabia looks down on all the Arab countries, particularly Iraq." He expressed his disapproval of the Arabs' position following the fall of Saddam Hussein, saying: "Most Arab countries that pretended to criticize the dictatorial regime [in Iraq] are now pretending to bemoan Iraq - but actually bemoan [the passing of] Saddam - and are exporting terrorism to Iraq." [17]

Kurdish Political Commentator Calls on Iraq to Strengthen Relations with Saudi Arabia, Allay Its Fears

In response to Majid, Kurdish writer and political commentator Sami Shawrash wrote that it is Iraq that should play the key role in resolving its disagreements with Saudi Arabia and the other countries in the region - despite the fact that they are interfering in Iraq's internal affairs. He called on Iraq to strengthen its relations not only with Saudi Arabia but also with Kuwait, Jordan, and other countries in the region, and to strive to placate them. He wrote: "Arab countries, and particularly Saudi Arabia, are concerned about loopholes in Iraq's political process and about Iran's interference [in Iraq's domestic affairs]; they labor under the assumption that Iran has influence over Iraq - that is, over the Al-Maliki government." [18]

Iraqi Accusations: Saudi Arabia is Behind Terrorist Attacks in Iraq

The most forceful accusation against Saudi Arabia came from Hadi Al-Ameri, chairman of Iraq's parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, who accused Saudi Arabia of heading a group of countries in the region that opposed the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq's cities. Al-Almeri said that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the recent bombings in Iraq, and must take a stand against them. He added that the bombings had been financed from outside the country, and that the perpetrators were members of Al-Qaeda and the Iraqi Ba’th Party. [19]

In the article mentioned above, Dr. 'Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein accused Saudi Arabia of promoting terrorism in Iraq: "Reliable reports have proven that 50% of all terrorists sent to Iraq, as well as most of those who carry out suicide attacks there, are from Saudi Arabia. As is well known, the Saudi regime is a police regime, [so that] no Saudi terrorist can enter Iraq without the authorization and blessing of the Saudi government." [20]

The Aswat Al-Iraq website also held Saudi Arabia responsible for suicide terrorist attacks carried out in Iraq in years past: "According to reports published following violent operations [in Iraq], most of those Al-Qaeda [members] who carried out suicide attacks [there] are Saudis who crossed into Iraq from neighboring countries, with the aim of carrying out their missions in Iraqi cities. Likewise, Saudi clerics have issued fatwas permitting terrorist attacks in Iraq. The most notorious of these was issued three years ago, by 26 Saudi clerics; in it, they sanctioned all means, including suicide attacks, on the grounds that they served "jihad against the occupier." [21]

Reports of Saudis' involvement in terrorist attacks in Iraq have appeared recently in both the Saudi and Iraqi press. The London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat stated that a senior Al-Qaeda official, a Saudi, who served as an Al-Qaeda commander in a Saudi-Iraqi border area, had turned himself in to the Saudi authorities. Security sources reported that the official possessed extensive information about Al-Qaeda cells recruiting operatives in Saudi Arabia for terrorist activities in Iraq. [22] Similarly, the Basra operations headquarters reported that during a raid on a house in the southern part of the city of Basra, Iraqi security forces had arrested a commander of Al-Qaeda in southern Iraq, Ihsan Mu'jam, a Saudi national, as well as three of his Iraqi aides. [23] The Saudi Interior Ministry announced that Saudi security forces had received no information in this regard from their Iraqi colleagues. [24]

Saudi Arabia: Pro-Iranian Elements in Iraq Blame Saudi Arabia for Destabilizing Iraq, Twisting Facts

Prince Turki Al-Faisal attributed Saudi Arabia's marginal role and negligible influence in Iraq to the fact that since 2003 - and especially in mid-2006 - certain Iraqi forces and elements have been trying to distance Iraq from its Arab dimension and subjugate it to Iran's rule. [25]

With regard to the high percentage of Saudis among terrorists operating in Iraq, the Saudi government daily 'Okaz claimed that the anarchy prevailing in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion had attracted hundreds of foreign fighters, including Saudis, enticed by empty slogans into fighting against U.S. forces. The daily emphasized, however, that it was undoubtedly the security anarchy, rather than political reasons alone, that was the reason for the high proportion of Saudis among the fighters coming to Iraq from different countries. At the same time, it was claimed, the statistics on Saudi participation in terrorist activities in Iraq are distorted, since the majority of arrested Arabs falsely claimed that they were Saudi, and since their documents were forged. Indeed, the Saudi authorities revealed that three out of the six wanted Saudis extradited in March 2008 were not Saudis, but nationals of other Arab countries, including Yemen.

The deputy director of the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, Dr. Mustafa Al-'Ani, demanded that Iraq reveal the identities and publish the photos of the alleged Saudi detainees, instead of portraying Saudis as the main force in destabilizing Iraq. He added that the Iraqi leadership includes a group of Iranian loyalists who believe that blaming Saudi Arabia for destabilizing Iraq serves Iranian interests - and that therefore Saudi Arabia must try to prove, with the help of the media, that Iraqi reports, and especially reports claiming that the detainees are Saudi nationals, are untrue. [26]

*D. Hazan is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.


[1], April 2, 2009.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 22, 2009.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 19, 2009.

[4] June 28, 2009.

[5], March 12, 2009.

[6] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 23, 2009.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 3, 2009.

[8] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 2, 2009.

[9] Al-Quds Al-'Arabi (London), May 4, 2009.

[10], March 12, 2009.

[11] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), April 21, 2009.

[12] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), April 30, 2009.

[13], April 19, 2009.

[14], April 2, 2009.

[15], April 4, 2009.

[16], April 4, 2009.

[17], April 5, 2009.

[18], April 5, 2009.

[19] June 28, 2009.

[20], April 4, 2009.

[21], April 5, 2009. For more information on the fatwa by 26 Saudi clerics, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 896, "Reactions and Counter-Reactions to the Saudi Clerics' Communiqué Calling for Jihad in Iraq," April 21, 2005, Reactions and Counter-Reactions to the Saudi Clerics' Communiqué Calling for Jihad in Iraq. It should be noted that since then, the official Saudi position has diametrically changed, and October 1, 2007, Saudi Mufti 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from traveling to Iraq for purposes of jihad. For more, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1731, "Saudi Mufti Issues Fatwa Prohibiting Saudi Youth From Engaging In Jihad Abroad," October 3, 2007,Saudi Mufti Issues Fatwa Prohibiting Saudi Youth From Engaging In Jihad Abroad.

[22] Al-Hayat (London), March 27, 2009.


[24] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), April 21, 2009.

[25] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), April 6, 2009.

[26] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), April 21, 2009.

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