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PostSun Nov 25, 2007 3:02 am     Majority of Foreign Fighters in Iraq Come from Saudi    

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And yet the Saudis are still the Bush familys best friends....


By Evan Kohlmann

Almost since the beginning of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq in late 2003, there has been an ongoing public debate about the significance and origins of foreign-born jihadists who have traveled to Iraq intent upon joining Al-Qaida and killing Americans and Muslim "apostates". Despite a veritable avalanche of evidence suggesting that these foreign fighters have had a disproportionate role in destabilizing Iraq and that a large cross-section (if not outright majority) of these fighters are coming from Saudi Arabia, a host of journalists and experts have wasted no effort in downplaying their impact. Regular readers of the Counterterrorism Blog will recall Jonathan Finer's article in the Washington Post, similar pieces published in the Christian Science Monitor, and a litany of commentary from Tony Cordesman (based almost entirely upon facts spoon-fed to him by Saudi intelligence and paid Saudi lobbyists).

Yet, now, it seems that the evidence of the involvement of Saudi Al-Qaida recruits in the Iraqi insurgency has become so plainly obvious that even the New York Times has taken note. In an article published this week, Times writer Richard Oppel cites statistics derived from a "trove of documents and computers discovered in September, when American forces raided a tent camp in the desert near Sinjar, close to the Syrian border", featuring a "collection of biographical sketches that listed hometowns and other details for more than 700 fighters brought into Iraq since August 2006." According to the Times article, at least 305 of those biographies--or 41%--were of fighters from Saudi Arabia: "Among the Saudi fighters described in the materials, 45 had come from Riyadh, 38 from Mecca, 20 from Buraidah and the surrounding area, 15 from Jawf and Sakakah, 13 from Jidda, and 12 from Medina." Compare this to Tony Cordesman's suggestion in his 2005 report on the Iraqi insurgency that Saudi nationals represent only 12% of the total number of foreign fighters. Quite obviously, Cordesman's estimate was way, way too low.

I should add that the latest evidence cited in the New York Times is hardly an incredible revelation. Other independent researchers--such as Reuven Paz and myself--who rely primarily on information obtained directly from insurgent groups--have long pointed to Saudi Arabia as the main source of Al-Qaida's recruits in Iraq. The evidence is almost unmistakable--in the form of countless video recordings, photographs, interviews, and written testimonials. Our motivation for reporting these facts has not been political or financial, but out of a genuine concern that one of America's closest allies in the Middle East has been nearly as unhelpful in Iraq (wittingly or unwittingly) as the regimes who have been routinely painted as America's most troublesome regional adversaries, namely Syria and Iran. Indeed, as noted by the New York Times piece, "whatever aid Iran provides to militias inside Iraq does not seem to extend to supplying actual combatants: only 11 Iranians are in American detention, United States officials say." I rarely find myself in agreement with Juan Cole on the issue of foreign fighters in Iraq, but even I can admit that he makes a fair argument when he points out: "Which country is providing a lot of foreign suicide bombers? US ally Saudi Arabia. Has any general or Bush administration official called a press conference to denounce Saudi Arabia? No. Has Joe Lieberman threatened it with a war? No. Everything is being blamed on Iran... regardless of the facts."

On a related note, I've been asked to write a piece about Iraq's foreign fighters for a new monthly publication produced by West Point's Combating Terrorism Center and slated to debut in January. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity, because I intend to publish for the first time some of the actual conversations I have had with the friends and families of Saudi foreign fighters who were killed while fighting alongside Al-Qaida in Iraq over the past four years. I would advise those who have been so quick to dismiss these fighters as "insignificant" (or even an outright "myth") to speak with these individuals first before jumping to more hasty conclusions.



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