Coda to the Petraeus Coverage: Saudi Arabia?

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Last summer, in the run-up to General Petraeus’ September testimony to Congress, there were a number of stories in the U.S. press about fighters from Saudi Arabia entering Iraq to cause violence.  Indeed, back in summer of 2007, it was possible to read in a mainstream newspaper, every now and then, that a plurality of foreign fighters in Iraq were Saudis.

The stories back then were, many of them, leaks from White House officials, who apparently used the leaks as a way of putting pressure on Saudi Arabia.  Such leaks were, naturally, off the record.  It was not officially acknowledged by the White House, nor by the allegedly independent General Petraeus in his September testimony, that any trouble at all, whether in terms of finance or material or personell, came from Saudi Arabia.

Still, in the run-up to Petraeus’ September testimony, Saudi Arabia was part of the news cycle.  No longer.  In the run-up to Petraeus’ testimony this April, Saudi Arabia had been all but forgotten.  Any hint that foreign fighters in Iraq were financed armed and manned by sources in Saudi Arabia, had vanished.

Some background.

Let’s remind ourselves of this Powerpoint slide, the first one that General Petraeus used in his September testimony, and which I diaried about at the time.


From Petraeus’ September Testimony

(Link to all of Petraeus’ September slides here.)

This slide, as much as anything else in the September testimony, shows the fundamental lack of seriousness about attempts to “protect” or “defend” something called “Iraq” from something the above slide calls “Major Threats.”  The yawning empty space in the lower left-hand quadrant of the slide shows that there are some things that simply aren’t talked about in polite company; official Congressional testimony or not.

In July, two months prior to the September testimony in which Petraeus failed to mention Saudi Arabia, Raw Story ran an article that collected accounts of Petraeus’ refusal to, well, mention Saudi Arabia:

Petraeus denies militants cross Saudi/Iraq border but officials admit infiltration

David Edwards and Muriel Kane

Published: Tuesday July 31, 2007

— snip —

Sawyer asked Petraeus about recent reports that “about half of the 60 to 80 foreign fighters coming into Iraq [each month] are coming across Saudi borders,” including a large number of suicide bombers. “You have been very hard on the Syrians for letting foreign fighters come in through their borders,” she said. “Are the Saudis not doing enough to shut down their borders?”

“I’m not sure that they’re coming across the Saudi border,” replied Petraeus. “I think what we have found is that it is Saudi citizens and citizens from other countries in North Africa and in the region who are coming through Syria.”

When Sawyer asked again, “So you don’t see them coming across the Saudi border?” Petraeus responded, more emphatically, “We do not, actually. The Saudis have a reasonably tight grip on the Saudi border, and it is a substantial expanse of desert. You really have to want to be a suicide bomber if you want to come across that expanse of desert that defines the Saudi-Iraq border in western Anbar Province.”

Also in July, LA Times:

Saudis’ role in Iraq insurgency outlined

Sunni extremists from Saudi Arabia make up half the foreign fighters in Iraq, many suicide bombers, a U.S. official says.

By Ned Parker, Times Staff Writer

July 15, 2007

BAGHDAD – Although Bush administration officials have frequently lashed out at Syria and Iran, accusing it of helping insurgents and militias here, the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from a third neighbor, Saudi Arabia, according to a senior U.S. military officer and Iraqi lawmakers.

Official Silence on Saudi troublemaking in Iraq, which apparently surpassed Iranian interference, was easily explained, to anyone who cared to look:

U.S. Set to Offer Huge Arms Deal To Saudi Arabia


Published: July 28, 2007

The Bush administration is preparing to ask Congress to approve an arms sale package for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors that is expected to eventually total $20 billion at a time when some United States officials contend that the Saudis are playing a counterproductive role in Iraq.

The proposed package of advanced weaponry for Saudi Arabia, which includes advanced satellite-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters and new naval vessels, has made Israel and some of its supporters in Congress nervous. Senior officials who described the package on Friday said they believed that the administration had resolved those concerns, in part by promising Israel $30.4 billion in military aid over the next decade, a significant increase over what Israel has received in the past 10 years.

But administration officials remained concerned that the size of the package and the advanced weaponry it contains, as well as broader concerns about Saudi Arabia’s role in Iraq, could prompt Saudi critics in Congress to oppose the package when Congress is formally notified about the deal this fall.

In talks about the package, the administration has not sought specific assurances from Saudi Arabia that it would be more supportive of the American effort in Iraq as a condition of receiving the arms package, the officials said.

That was then . . .

Now, seven months later, in April 2008, we hear nothing at all.  Once again, General Petraeus failed to mention Saudi Arabia one single time in his prepared remarks.  In September, Ambassador Crocker mentioned Saudi Arabia once in his prepared remarks — in order to praise them for building an embassy in Baghdad.  Now, in his April testimony, Ambassador Crocker mentioned Saudi Arabia a whopping zero times in his prepared remarks.

The difference between then and now is not in the very, very allegedly independent testimony of Crocker and Petraeus, but rather in the dead silence of the media.  There is nothing to be found, this time, at all, about Saudi Arabia and violence in Iraq.  I tend to think this is the result of greater discipline on the part of White House officials.

General Petraeus did mention some secret trips he made to countries, in order to get them to crack down on infiltrations into Iraq.  He didn’t mention any names, but AP reported on April 10:

Petraeus said Thursday that a number of U.S. military and intelligence officials have traveled to several countries, including some identified as sources of foreign fighters who routinely cross the borders into Iraq.

Petraeus did not name the countries he visited. The Associated Press has learned that the trips – all taken since September – were to Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Not Saudi Arabia.

The New York Times, on April 11, reported that several diplomatic missions had been taken.  The White House was careful to distinguish trips meant to encourage a cut-down in violence from those meant only as friendly visits to encourage an “increase in overall support.”  Saudi Arabia fell into this second camp.  President Bush, if he sent people to Saudi Arabia to get them to cut foreign fighters into Iraq, wasn’t saying so.

Bush Dispatches Envoys to Arab Capitals as Part of Iraq Plan


Published: April 11, 2008

President Bush directed Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Baghdad, to stop in Saudi Arabia on their way back to Iraq from Washington to encourage the Saudis to increase their overall support for Iraq, Mr. Bush said Thursday.

Vice President Cheney recently visited Saudi Arabia for the reported purpose of . . . wait for it . . . getting them to re-open their embassy in Iraq.  The same thing Ambassador Crocker praised Saudi Arabia for planning to do, back in September.  AFP, April 12:

“It’s a diplomatic surge now,” said one Bush administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Saudi Arabia appears to be the main target: US officials say privately that the Arab, Sunni regional heavyweight is a logical counter for Iran’s Persian, Shiite Muslim influence.

The officials also say that the Saudis don’t much like Maliki but, as one said, “they need to get over it” if they want to counter Iran. “They’re coming around,” that official added.

US Vice President Dick Cheney visited Riyadh last month with the explicit goal of getting the kingdom to reopen its embassy in Baghad and renew regular diplomatic exchanges — an effort that has yet to bear fruit.

The Saudis don’t like Maliki but they “need to get over it.”  This is what administration officials are now saying off the record.  They are no longer talking about Saudi fighters in Iraq.   I am wondering what changed.

“I think our Arab friends would do well to send ambassadors to Iraq,” Cheney said in Iraq, ahead of his stop in Saudi Arabia.

“I think especially if Arab states (are) concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq — one of the ways for them to counter that is to make a commitment to have a presence here, as well,” he said.

This strikes me as a fairly desperate, pleading note from Cheney.  I am wondering if the Bush Administration isn’t privately signalling that they would welcome more participation of any sort, even violence, if it would curb the influence of anti-Amercian, that is to say nationalist, which the Administration labels “Iranian”, influence in Iraq.  But that is merely speculation.

The main theme I want to press here is the lack of any story about Saudi Arabia, as the very, very allegedly independent testimony of General Petraeus came and went.  I don’t know what it means, but I thought it was worth pointing out.


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  1. Also at Daily Kos.

    • OPOL on April 13, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    he’d NEVER tell a lie…EVER.


  2. Juan Cole’s blog has an interesting analysis showing that the Iraq Study Group (ISG) predicted the current deteriorating situation in Iraq.  He also points out how Iran is supporting Maliki rather than Sadr.

    Likewise, the ISG pointed out that the Badr Corps paramilitary was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and is close to Tehran. (See below). It fought on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s side in the recent Basra fighting. In other words, the government side was the pro-Iranian side. The Mahdi Army and Sadr neighborhood militia forces they attacked were largely Iraqi nativists who bad-mouth Iran. Fiderer points out that the ISG report had already diagnosed this syndrome. The Bush team did propaganda, pointedly declining to name Badr as an Iranian client and blaming Iran for the Mahdi Army’s violence. In fact, the violence came as a response to violations of the cease fire by the US and the Iraqi government, which took advantage of it to arrest Mahdi Army commanders (that’s a ceasefire?)

  3. …activities, and goals in the region-Iraq, particularly, has been curiously lacking since the 9/11.  

    For some inexplicable reason, in spite of the fact that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and that none were Iraqi-or Iranian for that matter-that fact never got much press coverage and certainly the media failed miserably to remind people of that fact as Bush/Cheney have repeatedly tried to blame “all things terrorist” on Iraq and Iran.  

    I’ve wondered if the media is as clueless as McCain and the bush administration are about who’s who in Iraq/ Saudi/ Iran, and how knowing the players and their motives are essential to finding a solution to the quagmire?

    On the one hand, Saudi Arabia is worried that if the US were to  pull out of Iraq “too soon”,  such a move would leave the Shi’ite dominated Iraq too much under the influence of Iran:  

    “Saudi Arabia, a leading Sunni country fearful of the influence of Shi’ite Iran in Iraq, is worried that Washington will pull out of Iraq prematurely to end an unpopular war. Iran-allied Shi’ites could dominate if the U.S. leaves too soon, it fears.”

    On the other hand:

    “…Analysts say Saudi Arabia could give financial and other backing to some tribes among the Sunni minority to challenge Iran-allied Shi’ites in the event of a U.S. withdrawal….U.S. troops are battling Sunni insurgents…”

    Foreign policy: It’s complex, and it’s not for arrogant simpletons (like bush/cheney/mccain).  

  4. I can’t say I’m surprised.  I agree that it’s strange that the subject has evaporated into thin air.  Actually, it’s pretty creepy.

    • srkp23 on April 14, 2008 at 3:14 am

    that you’re putting together. Thank you.

    We are supporting the Saudis, who are funding terrorists, who we are then fighting. What a fucking fucked up situation. Although, when we take a look at U.S. foreign policy, in some ways it’s SNAFU.  

    • creeper on April 14, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    Prince Bandar might refuse to attend Bush’s next get-together at the ranch.

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