Sunday, September 25, 2005

CSIS: Saudi Militants in Iraq

The problem of Saudi militants joining the jihad in Iraq, either to die or to train and take their skills home again, is one of the great and growing security concerns in the Middle East. It's a key reason the Saudi government is speaking out so strongly now about the dangers of all-out civil war in its neighbor to the north. A new report from the CSIS by Nawaf Obaid and Anthony Cordesman, written with substantial Saudi input, helps to clarify the situation. Its conclusion, the role of Saudis in Iraq has been exaggerated, but there's still a hell of a lot to worry about:

"Interrogations and other Saudi intelligence gathering operations reveal that these individuals do not come exclusively from a single geographical region in Saudi Arabia, but from various areas in the Kingdom, especially from the South, Hijaz, and Najd. They are usually affiliated with the most prominent conservative tribes and are generally middle class. Most are employed, many are educated, and all are Sunni. ...

"The average age of these fighters is 17-25, but a few are older. Some have families and young children. In contrast, other fighters from across the Middle East and North Africa tend to be in their late 20s or 30s. As part of a massive crackdown on Saudi militants attempting to enter Iraq, the Saudi government has interrogated dozens of nationals either returning from Iraq or caught at theborder. They were then questioned by the intelligence services about, among other things, their motives for joining the insurgency. One important point was the number who insisted that they were not militants before the Iraq war. Backing up this contention, of those who were interrogated, a full 85% were not on any government watch list (which comprised most of the recognized extremists and militants), nor were they known members of al-Qaeda. The names of those who died fighting in Iraq generally appear on militant websites as martyrs, and Saudi investigators have also approached the families of these individuals for information regarding the background and motivation of the ones who died. According to these interviews as well, the bulk of the Saudi fighters in Iraq were driven to extremism by the war itself. ... "

"Saudi Militants in Iraq: Assessment and Kingdom's Response," by Nawaf Obaid and Anthony Cordesman. Center for Strategic and International Studies. Revised Sept. 19, 2005. (PDF file)

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