Friday, December 22, 2006

The Real Clash of Civilizations

It's hard to tell just where this is going but America's destabilization of Iraq is leading to a clash of civilizations drawn on Persian versus Arab, Shia versus Sunni lines. At the core of it lie Iran and Saudi Arabia.

In Palestine and in Lebanon the two camps have been waging a proxy war, each supporting its own along the Shia/Sunni divide. Hezbollah is Shia, al-Qaeda is Sunni.

In Saudi Arabia today, Saddam Hussein is becoming associated with keeping the Shia genie in the Iran bottle. Toppling Saddam let that genie out to unite with Iraq's majority Shia and fundamentally shifted the balance of power in the Persian Gulf region.

Now, according to an article in the International Herald Tribune, the Persian threat is on the lips of many in Saudi Arabia:

"Saudi newspapers now openly decry Iran's growing power. Religious leaders have begun talking about a "Persian onslaught" that threatens the existence of Islam itself. In the salons of Riyadh, the "Iranian threat" is raised almost as openly and as frequently as the stock market.

"'Iran has become more dangerous than Israel itself,' said Sheik Musa bin Abdulaziz, editor of Al Salafi magazine, a self-described moderate in the Salafi fundamentalist Muslim movement that seeks to return Islam to its roots. 'The Iranian revolution has come to renew the Persian presence in the region. This is the real clash of civilizations.'

"Yet a growing debate here has centered on how Iran should be confronted: Head on, with Saudi Arabia throwing its lot in with the full force of the United States, as one argument goes, or diplomatically, having been offered a grand bargain it would find hard to refuse.

"Many Saudis have also grown openly critical of the country's policy on Iraq, citing its adherence to a U.S.-centric policy at the cost of Saudi interests.

"More pessimistic analysts here said the country has lost significant strength and stature in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, even as Iran, with its populist, anti- U.S. agenda, has reaped the benefits.

"'The Saudis made a big mistake by following the Americans when they had no plan,' said Khalid al-Dakhil of King Saud University. 'If the Saudis had intervened earlier and helped the Sunnis they could have found a political solution to their differences instead of the bloodshed we are seeing today.'

"Last week, a group of prominent Wahhabi clerics and university professors called on the government to begin actively backing the Sunnis, noting that 'what Iraq, as a country and a people, has gone through in terms of a Christian-Shiite conspiracy preceded by a Bathist rule is one chapter in the many chapters of the conspiracy and an indicator for the success of the plan of the octopus which is invading the region.'"

There's no question that the Saudis have been pushing Washington hard in recent weeks. They've warned that a US pullout from Iraq might leave them no choice but to aid the country's Sunni minority in the ongoing conflict. They've also warned that, unless the US stops Iran from developing a nulear weapon, Sunni Arab states in the region may get involved in a little nuclear research of their own.

Iran is passing up no opportunity to expand its influence beyond its borders in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. Achieving this comes largely at the expense of Arab Sunnis. Something has to give.

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