Saudi Attaches Price Tag for Building New Iraqi Army
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir was the first high-ranking member of the Riyadh government to visit Baghdad in 17 years. He arrived there on Feb. 25 for an effort to bury the hatchet between Riyadh and the Shiite-dominated government of Iraq and sat down for talks with his opposite number, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
An Iraqi official said that the visitor announced plans to appoint a new ambassador and support direct flights between the two countries. Jubeir told reporters that Riyadh was willing to help bridge the sectarian divide on certain conditions. He even brought with him a detailed program for funding the overhaul of the Iraqi army if those conditions were met, as DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources disclose.
1. Riyadh is willing to foot the entire bill for rebuilding the Iraqi armed forces from scratch and its expansion – a broad hint that the Americans failed in the project of refurbishing the Iraq army, despite a multibillion dollar outlay.
2. In return, the Saudis demanded a large injection of Sunni Muslim combatants into the Shiite-dominated army, especially in the units deployed along Iraq’s borders with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
3. Central government in Baghdad must honor the historic fatwa (edict) issued on Feb. 13 by Ayatollah Ali Sistani, 86, the revered spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiite Muslims, which ordered the pro-Iranian Popular Mobilization Units, and all other Iraqi Shiite militias, to withdraw from the Mosul front and return home.
This edict annulled the religious legitimacy he granted earlier for Shiite militias to participate in the ongoing war against ISIS.
This decree amounted to the most extreme anti-Iran step the ayatollah had ever taken. But, by the same token, it was also aimed against the United States, whose military commanders in Iraq are actively deploying those pro-Iranian militias in the offensive to retake Mosul from the Islamic State and, moreover, actively cooperating with their officers at their command centers (as we revealed in previous issues.)
It is hard to see the Jubeir visit to Baghdad alone resulting in a substantive shift in the troubled relations between Riyadh and Baghdad.