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Originally Published: 1/3/2007


By The Issue Wonk


Late November/early December 2006, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia “summoned” Vice President Dick Cheney to Riyadh.  He went.  Helene Cooper of The New York Times reported that the Saudis are threatening to provide financial backing to the Iraqi Sunnis in their war against the Iraqi Shi’ites if the United States pulls its troops out of Iraq.  King Abdullah also “expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran . . .” 1  Hawaf Obaid suggested that Saudi Arabia could reduce oil prices sharply by raising production, a move that “would be devastating to Iran,” 2 not to mention American oil companies.  What’s the Saudi connection to Iraq?


Islamic Sectarianism.  The Saudis were adamantly opposed to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  According to Obaid: 2


In February 2003, a month before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the [then] Saudi foreign minister, Price Saud al-Faisal, warned President Bush that he would be “solving one problem and creating five more” if he removed Saddam Hussein by force.


Also, in a speech last October, Saudi Arabia’s then new ambassador to the U.S., Prince Turki al-Faisal, who has since resigned, 3 said that “since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited.” 2  Therefore, the Saudis and other Sunni Arabs didn’t want the U.S. to remove Saddam Hussein from power.  However, they acquiesced, and promised to stay out of the conflict. 2


The Saudi connection to Iraq is somewhat based on Islamic sectarianism.  Saddam Hussein was a Sunni.  The Saudi royal family is Sunni.  Saudi Arabians are primarily Sunni.  But, Iraqi Sunnis are in the minority, holding only 15% to 20% of the population. 2  And the civil war in Iraq is Sunni vs. Shi’ite.  Iran is controlled by Shi’ites and they are backing the Iraqi Shi’ites.  In addition, Egypt, Jordan, and other Arab and Muslim countries have also petitioned Saudi Arabia to “provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support.” 2  That Saudi Arabians are already involved in the fighting in Iraq is very clear.  A 2005 NBC analysis found that “of the hundreds of foreign fighters who died in Iraq over the last two years” the majority [55%] came from Saudi Arabia.4  Does this mean that the Saudi royal family is sending them?  Not at all.  It does indicate, however, that the Saudi Sunnis are willing to fight and die with the Iraqi Sunnis.


Oil.  It appears that some of the Saudi connection has to do with oil.  The United Nations sanctions on Iraq limited them in their sale of oil, which provided quite a profit for the Saudis.  When supplies go down, prices go up.5  According to Mordechai Abir, 6 in 2002 Saudi Arabia was concerned that United Nations sanctions on Iraq would be lifted and it would be able to produce oil to its full capacity, which would have resulted in an increase in supplies and a decrease in prices.  Not good for the Saudis or American oil companies.  In order to control the price of oil, Saudis need to control its supply and it can easily do this in its role as leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).  Since the U.S. invaded Iraq, OPEC members, as well as U.S. oil companies, have made record profits7 and Saudi Arabia is enjoying budget surpluses with no external debt.2


That control of Iraqi oil is of great interest to the Saudis is clear.  One of the promises of the Bush administration prior to the U.S. invasion was that Iraqi oil would be able to pay for all the costs of the war.  Paul Wolfowitz said:8


There’s a lot of money to pay for this that doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people . . . and on a rough recollection, the oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years. . . We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.


Yet, Iraqi oil production today is less than it was under U.N. sanctions.  At the time of invasion Iraq was producing about 2.5 million barrels per day (mbd).9  As of March 2006 Iraq was producing 1.362 mbd.10  This reduction in Iraqi oil has led to the record profits for OPEC and American oil companies.


Do the Saudis need the money?  According to Doran, yes.11  Desperately.  The Saudi Arabian economy has not been able to keep pace with population growth.  The Saudi welfare state is rapidly deteriorating.  Regional and sectarian resentments are rising.  To top it all off, due to the U.S. invasion of Iraq there has been an upsurge in radical Islamic activism.  Doran11 says that a “profound cultural schizophrenia prevents the elite from agreeing on the specifics of reform.”  This is not a good time for the Saudi royal family to be viewed by its citizens as supporting U.S. policy in Iraq.  They have to take a stand.  And they did.  They’ve made their money.  Now they need to placate their people who fervently support the Iraqi Sunnis.



1  Cooper, Helene.  “Saudis Say They Might Back Sunnis if U.S. Leaves Iraq.”  The New York Times, December 13, 2006.


2  Obaid, Hawaf.  “Stepping Into Iraq: Saudi Arabia Will Protect Sunnis if the U.S. Leaves.”  The Washington Post, November 29, 2006.


3  Al Tamimi, Jumana.  “Turki resigns as Saudi Envoy to Washington.”  GulfNews.com, December 13, 2006.


4  Myers, Lisa.  “Who Are the Foreign Fighters in Iraq?”  MSNBC, June 20, 2005.


5  The Issue Wonk.  The Price of Gas, 5/3/06.


6  Abir, Mordechai.  Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the War on Terrorism.  Jerusalem Issue Brief.  Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Vol. 2,  No. 11, 26 November 2002.


7  Abir, Mordechai.  Global Oil Supply Security and Al-Qaeda’s Abortive Attack on Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia.  Jerusalem Issue Brief.  Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Vol. 5,  No. 19, 16 March 2006.


8  Past Comments About How Much Iraq Would Cost.  From House Committee on Appropriations Hearing on a Supplemental War Regulation, 3/27/03.


9  Iraq: Oil and Economy. Sands of Iraq Hold World’s 2nd Largest Oil Reserve.  U.S. Gov Info


10 Kumins, Lawrence.  Iraq Oil:  Reserves, Production, and Potential Revenues.  Congressional Research Service, April 13, 2005.


11 Doran, Michael Scott.  “The Saudi Paradox.”  Foreign Affairs, January/February 2004.



© The Issue Wonk, 2007



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