Saturday, May 23, 2015

Daily Times Editorial May 24, 2015

Saudi chickens In an unfortunate and tragic development, an Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber struck a Shia mosque in al-Qadeeh village in eastern Saudi Arabia, a predominantly Shia region. The blast targeted more than 150 worshippers offering their Friday prayers. The death toll was 21, injured over 90. Few escaped the carnage unscathed. One of the deadliest attacks in Saudi Arabia, it is also the first claimed by IS on Saudi soil. Sectarian tensions had already frayed as a result of the almost two month long Saudi-led bombing campaign in neighbouring Yemen against the rebel Houthis and their allies. This incident is likely to make that even worse. IS said in a statement that one of its suicide bombers, Abu Ammar al-Najdi, carried out the attack with an explosives-laden belt that killed or wounded 250 people. It vowed not to rest until all Shias, whom it considers heretics, are expelled from the Arabian Peninsula. In November last year, IS leader and self-styled caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had called for attacks on the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia, which has declared IS a terrorist organisation, joined international airstrikes against it, and mobilised the clergy to denounce it. Last week al-Baghdadi issued another speech laden with derogatory comments about both the Saudi leadership and the Shia minority. Shias were targeted in November last year when gunmen fired at a religious celebration in al-Ahsa, again in the preponderantly Shia eastern part of Saudi Arabia. Last month, Saudi Arabia was on high alert for possible attacks on oil installations, shopping malls, etc. Condemnation of the latest IS atrocity was heard from Hezbollah of Lebanon and Iran, but both placed the responsibility for the attack squarely on the Saudi leadership and its policies. Pakistan’s prime minister, president and foreign office also condemned it, as did UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon. Meanwhile, undeterred by such condemnatory statements, IS also bombed a mosque in Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, and consolidated its hold on the Iraq-Syria border. After the capture by IS of Ramidi and a border crossing in Iraq and the historic city of Palmyra in Syria, IS virtually controls the entire Iraq-Syria border except for the north, where the Kurds have managed to hold out against it and even repel its advances. IS continues to kidnap and execute people in the areas it controls in both countries. These areas, plus the offensive launched in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib by the Al-Nusra Front mean that the regime in Damascus now controls only 22 percent of Syria’s territory. However, given the seesaw trajectory of the struggle against Bashar al-Assad’s government, it may be premature to go along with the wishful thinking of his enemies predicting his imminent downfall. Unfortunately, the US is still floundering in its self-created anti-Assad bog and unable to see the wood for the trees. US President Barack Obama called the IS advances in Ramidi, which arguably threaten Baghdad itself, as a temporary setback. This would be laughable if the situation were not so dire. Unable to wean itself off its anti-Assad obsession, Washington is till putting all its eggs in the so-called ‘moderate’ Islamist opposition’s basket, without realising that this stance is helping no one except IS. The latter is taking full advantage of the fighting between objectively potential allies against it to push ahead with its territorial gains and consolidation of its antediluvian rule in the territories it controls, spanning two states. If Washington and its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia do not wake up and smell the coffee, they may soon find the situation irreversible and a self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate cleverly using the fractures in the forces actually arrayed against it to romp home to victory. And as the mosque bombing shows, Saudi Arabia too needs to wake up the to the threat the presence of IS in its neighbourhood and on its soil poses to the rule of the Saud dynasty. With the greatest respect and sensitivity to the Saudis for the latest tragedy, all these developments could be considered the Saudi chickens of funding and supporting Islamist proxies in the neighbourhood for decades finally coming home to roost. Time for Riyadh and Washington to change course and fight the real rising enemy: IS.

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