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Saudis’ role in Iraq insurgency outlined

Sunni extremists from Saudi Arabia make up half the foreign fighters
in Iraq, many suicide bombers, a U.S. official says.
By Ned Parker  /  July 15, 2007

BAGHDAD – Although Bush administration officials have frequently
lashed out at Syria and Iran, accusing it of helping insurgents and
militias here, the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide
bombers in Iraq come from a third neighbor, Saudi Arabia, according to
a senior U.S. military officer and Iraqi lawmakers.

About 45% of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi
civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; 15% are from
Syria and Lebanon; and 10% are from North Africa, according to
official U.S. military figures made available to The Times by the
senior officer. Nearly half of the 135 foreigners in U.S. detention
facilities in Iraq are Saudis, he said.

Fighters from Saudi Arabia are thought to have carried out more
suicide bombings than those of any other nationality, said the senior
U.S. officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the
subject’s sensitivity. It is apparently the first time a U.S. official
has given such a breakdown on the role played by Saudi nationals in
Iraq’s Sunni Arab insurgency.

He said 50% of all Saudi fighters in Iraq come here as suicide
bombers. In the last six months, such bombings have killed or injured
4,000 Iraqis.

The situation has left the U.S. military in the awkward position of
battling an enemy whose top source of foreign fighters is a key ally
that at best has not been able to prevent its citizens from
undertaking bloody attacks in Iraq, and at worst shares complicity in
sending extremists to commit attacks against U.S. forces, Iraqi
civilians and the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

The problem casts a spotlight on the tangled web of alliances and
enmities that underlie the political relations between Muslim nations
and the U.S.

Complicated past

In the 1980s, the Saudi intelligence service sponsored Sunni Muslim
fighters for the U.S.-backed Afghan mujahedin battling Soviet troops
in Afghanistan. At the time, Saudi intelligence cultivated another man
helping the Afghan fighters, Osama bin Laden, the future leader of Al
Qaeda who would one day turn against the Saudi royal family and
mastermind the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Indeed,
Saudi Arabia has long been a source of a good portion of the money and
manpower for Al Qaeda: 15 of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks
were Saudi.

Now, a group that calls itself Al Qaeda in Iraq is the greatest short-
term threat to Iraq’s security, U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen.
Kevin Bergner said Wednesday.

The group, one of several Sunni Muslim insurgent groups operating in
Baghdad and beyond, relies on foreigners to carry out suicide attacks
because Iraqis are less likely to undertake such strikes, which the
movement hopes will provoke sectarian violence, Bergner said. Despite
its name, the extent of the group’s links to Bin Laden’s network,
based along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier, is unclear.

The Saudi government does not dispute that some of its youths are
ending up as suicide bombers in Iraq, but says it has done everything
it can to stop the bloodshed.

“Saudis are actually being misused. Someone is helping them come to
Iraq. Someone is helping them inside Iraq. Someone is recruiting them
to be suicide bombers. We have no idea who these people are. We aren’t
getting any formal information from the Iraqi government,” said Gen.
Mansour Turki, spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry.

“If we get good feedback from the Iraqi government about Saudis being
arrested in Iraq, probably we can help,” he said.

Defenders of Saudi Arabia pointed out that it has sought to control
its lengthy border with Iraq and has fought a bruising domestic war
against Al Qaeda since Sept. 11.

“To suggest they’ve done nothing to stem the flow of people into Iraq
is wrong,” said a U.S. intelligence official in Washington, who spoke
on condition of anonymity. “People do get across that border. You can
always ask, ‘Could more be done?’ But what are they supposed to do,
post a guard every 15 or 20 paces?”

Deep suspicions

Others contend that Saudi Arabia is allowing fighters sympathetic to
Al Qaeda to go to Iraq so they won’t create havoc at home.

Iraqi Shiite lawmaker Sami Askari, an advisor to Prime Minister Nouri
Maliki, accused Saudi officials of a deliberate policy to sow chaos in

“The fact of the matter is that Saudi Arabia has strong intelligence
resources, and it would be hard to think that they are not aware of
what is going on,” he said.

Askari also alleged that imams at Saudi mosques call for jihad, or
holy war, against Iraq’s Shiites and that the government had funded
groups causing unrest in Iraq’s largely Shiite south. Sunni extremists
regard Shiites as unbelievers.

Other Iraqi officials said that though they believed Saudi Arabia, a
Sunni fundamentalist regime, had no interest in helping Shiite-ruled
Iraq, it was not helping militants either. But some Iraqi Shiite
leaders say the Saudi royal family sees the Baghdad government as a
proxy for its regional rival, Shiite-ruled Iran, and wants to unseat

With its own border with Iraq largely closed, Saudi fighters take what
is now an established route by bus or plane to Syria, where they meet
handlers who help them cross into Iraq’s western deserts, the senior
U.S. military officer said.

He suggested it was here that Saudi Arabia could do more, by
implementing rigorous travel screenings for young Saudi males. Iraqi
officials agreed.

“Are the Saudis using all means possible? Of course not…. And we think
they need to do more, as does Syria, as does Iran, as does Jordan,”
the senior officer said. An estimated 60 to 80 foreign fighters cross
into Iraq each month, according to the U.S. military.

“It needs to be addressed by the government of Iraq head on. They have
every right to stand up to a country like Saudi Arabia and say, ‘Hey,
you are killing thousands of people by allowing your young jihadists
to come here and associate themselves with an illegal worldwide
network called Al Qaeda.”

Both the White House and State Department declined to comment for this

Turki, the Saudi spokesman, defended the right of his citizens to
travel without restriction.

“If you leave Saudi Arabia and go to other places and find somebody
who drags them to Iraq, that is a problem we can’t do anything about,”
Turki said. He added that security officials could stop people from
leaving the kingdom only if they had information on them.

U.S. officials had not shared with Iraqi officials information gleaned
from Saudi detainees, but this has started to change, said an Iraqi
source, who asked not to be identified. For example, U.S. officials
provided information about Saudi fighters and suicide bombers to Iraqi
security officials who traveled to Saudi Arabia last week.

Iraqi advisor Askari asserted that Vice President Dick Cheney, in a
visit to Saudi Arabia in May, pressured officials to crack down on
militant traffic to Iraq. But that message has not yet produced
results, Askari said.

The close relationship between the U.S. and oil-rich Saudi Arabia has
become increasingly difficult.

Saudi leaders in early February undercut U.S. diplomacy in the Israeli-
Palestinian dispute by brokering, in Mecca, an agreement to form a
Fatah-Hamas “unity” government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And
King Abdullah took Americans by surprise by declaring at an Arab
League gathering that the U.S. presence in Iraq was illegitimate.

U.S. officials remain sensitive about the relationship. Asked why U.S.
officials in Iraq had not publicly criticized Saudi Arabia the way
they had Iran or Syria, the senior military officer said, “Ask the
State Department. This is a political juggernaut.”

Last week when U.S. military spokesman Bergner declared Al Qaeda in
Iraq the country’s No. 1 threat, he released a profile of a thwarted
suicide bomber, but said he had not received clearance to reveal his
nationality. The bomber was a Saudi national, the senior military
officer said Saturday.

Would-be suicide bomber

The fighter, a young college graduate whose mother was a teacher and
father a professor, had been recruited in a mosque to join Al Qaeda in
Iraq. He was given money for a bus ticket and a phone number to call
in Syria to contact a handler who would smuggle him into Iraq.

Once the young Saudi made it in, he was under the care of Iraqis who
gave him his final training and indoctrination. At the very last
minute, the bomber decided he didn’t want to blow himself up. He was
supposed to have been one of two truck bombers on a bridge outside
Ramadi. When the first truck exploded, he panicked and chose not to
trigger his own detonator, and Iraqi police arrested him.

Al Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliate groups number anywhere from 5,000
to 10,000 individuals, the senior U.S. military officer said. Iraqis
make up the majority of members, facilitating attacks, indoctrinating,
fighting, but generally not blowing themselves up. Iraqis account for
roughly 10% of suicide bombers, according to the U.S. military.

ned [dot] parker [at] latimes [dot] com
Times staff writers Paul Richter and Greg Miller in Washington
contributed to this report.

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Saudis’ first exercise in democracy
By Kim Ghattas  /  10 February, 2005
BBC News, Riyadh

Some 650 candidates are fighting for just seven seats in Riyadh.

The absolute monarchy of Saudi Arabia is having its first ever
exercise in democracy as it holds nationwide elections at the
municipal level.

The elections are in three rounds, with Riyadh kicking off the vote.

For the past two weeks, there has been frantic campaigning all over
the city.

Posters of candidates have gone up, flyers have been distributed, and
some mobile phone text messages have even been offering to help
candidates buy votes.

But the Western-style campaigning has also been accompanied by

Everywhere, large Bedouin tents were put up, sometimes in the shadow
of the capital’s skyscrapers.

Just outside, fires were burning with people huddling around and
drinking strong black coffee.

Several thousand sheep have been slaughtered every evening to feed
guests attending campaign rallies held inside the multitude of tents
set up by some 650 candidates vying for just seven seats in Riyadh.

“As a Saudi citizen I believe that this is the first step towards full
democracy,” said Sulaiman al-Enezi, a media manager for one of the

“Ask someone 10 years ago and he will tell you, you are crazy, you are
dreaming, but now we can see the dream come true and I don’t see it
stopping here.”

Women banned

But he pointed out that the dream has not come true for everybody.

Women, who make up more than 50% of the population, are banned from
participating in the polls.

This is despite neutral rules that say citizens over 21 years of age –
except military personnel – have the right to vote.

Officials cited logistical reasons behind the exclusion of women.

Recently, women were allowed to have their ID cards but only 6% of
Saudi women requested them.

Without ID cards, voters cannot register and officials say it was not
possible to issue ID cards for all women before the vote.

But they have promised that women will be part of the next elections
in 2009.

“I understand the logistical problem but still we are very depressed
that we have not been allowed to vote, this is our right,” said 25-
year-old Iman Qahtani, a journalist.

“Another major reason behind our exclusion is the fact that this is
still a conservative society and it would not have been acceptable for
many to see women cast their votes, let alone be part of the municipal

‘Turning point’

Voters will also be electing only half of the municipal council. The
other half will still be appointed.

Still, the elections have been described as an important turning point
for the country.

The poll is part of Saudi Arabia’s measured response to domestic and
international pressure to bring about reform in the kingdom and
introduce some political participation.

“Although such a step appears small and humble, it carries many
indications because it’s the first time that basic preparations for
elections are held,” said Labour Minister Ghazi Algosaibi.

According to officials, the next step might involve giving more powers
to the Majlis al-Shura, the appointed consultative council.

There has also been talk about holding elections for the next term of
the council in four years.

“The problem is that the government is giving this right to the people
but the people are not really getting involved,” said Riyadh council
candidate Badr Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Saidan, referring to the fact that only
about 25% of eligible voters registered.

“It’s not a bad percentage, but since we have been fighting for
this… we thought it would be 100%,” he said.

“But maybe it’s ignorance, people don’t know how to register and they
didn’t realise it would come to this, having people campaigning, and
I’m sure we have more and more people who regret not having

Phase 1 – 10 Feb (Riyadh reg)
Phase 2 – 3 Mar (5 regions)
Phase 3 – 21 Apr (7 regions)
Total number of councils – 178
Total contested seats – 592
Councils in phase 1 – 38
Seats in phase 1 – 104
Candidates in phase 1 – 1,818

Saudis prepare to behead teenage maid
By Tim Butcher  /  17/07/2007

The imminent execution of a teenage maid in Saudi Arabia drew fierce
criticism yesterday and provoked condemnation of the kingdom’s
prolific use of capital punishment.

The case has brought fresh attention to the draconian Saudi criminal
justice system which is expected this year to set a new record in its
use of the death sentence.

Human rights campaigners yesterday urged the authorities not to behead
a 19-year-old Sri Lankan maid found guilty of killing a baby in her

According to the Saudi authorities, Rizana Nafeek admitted strangling
the four-month-old boy while feeding him with a bottle.

But Nafeek, whose job was not meant to include child care, has denied
making any such admission. She claims the child had begun to choke
before losing consciousness in spite of her desperate efforts to clear
his airway.

Tonight is the deadline for appeals in the case. Unless the Saudi
authorities change the sentence or the parents of the victim offer
clemency, Nafeek will have her head cut off by an executioner wielding
a sword in front of a crowd of onlookers.

In 2005 there were 191 executions but that record could be surpassed
this year as 102 have already taken place just over half way through
the year. Last year the total dipped to 38 but this year’s figure
already includes three women, according to Amnesty International.

Nafeek, who had been denied a lawyer at her trial, is one of 5.6
million foreign workers who live in Saudi Arabia. The vast majority
are domestic workers such as Nafeek, employed to look after the homes
of oil-rich families.

According to the Sri Lankan government, Nafeek had only been in the
country a few weeks when the incident happened in May 2005. A
government delegation tried to fly to Saudi Arabia to organise her
appeal but it was delayed because of visa problems.

Beheading has always been the punishment for murderers, rapists, drug
traffickers and armed robbers in Saudi Arabia, which follows a strict
interpretation of Islamic law.

In February, four Sri Lankan workers were executed for armed robbery
and their headless bodies left on public display in Riyadh, triggering
harsh criticism from international rights groups.

Amnesty International says some defendants are convicted solely on the
basis of confessions obtained under duress, torture or deception.

Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, said: “It is an
absolute scandal that Saudi Arabia is preparing to behead a teenage
girl who didn’t even have a lawyer at her trial. The Saudi authorities
are flouting an international prohibition on the execution of child
offenders by even imposing a death sentence on a defendant who was
reportedly 17 at the time of the alleged crime.”

There are so many foreign workers in Saudi Arabia that they account
for a large proportion of crimes committed.

“The workers commit big crimes against Saudis,” said Suhaila Hammad of
Saudi Arabia’s National Society for Human Rights.

She said the number of executions had risen because crime had
increased. She said that prisoners were treated humanely and that
beheadings deterred crime.

“Allah, our creator, knows best what’s good for his people,” she said.

“Should we just think of and preserve the rights of the murderer and
not think of the rights of others?”



Saudi man with 58 wives stirs polygamy debate
By Hasan Jamali, AP

USFAN, Saudi Arabia (AP) – In 50 years, he says, he has married 58
women and has forgotten the names of most of them. He knows he has had
10 sons, but ask about daughters and he counts on his fingers: 22. No,
no, 28. No, that’s too many. He settles on 25.

‘I’m the happiest man in the world,’ says Saleh al-Sayeri.

Saleh al-Sayeri, a 64-year-old shepherd-turned-businessman, says his
marital adventures have cost him more than $1.6 million in wedding
expenses and settlements for divorced wives. But the man who remembers
being forced into his first marriage at age 14 says he’d do it a
million times over.

“Marriage doesn’t bore me,” he said, relaxing on cushions at a
carpeted, open-air reception area in his 22-horse stable in Usfan, in
the desert 500 miles west of Riyadh. “I’m the happiest man in the

Al-Sayeri’s story might seem a bizarre curiosity, but it touches a
nerve in Saudi Arabia, the status of whose women is a matter of
international controversy.

When it surfaced in Saudi media in March, some readers reacted

A woman who identified herself as Maryam, a convert to Islam, wrote to
the Arab News, an English-language daily, that al-Sayeri’s story
“really sent me over the edge.”

“What kind of a family structure is this? What is divorce doing to the
psychologies of the ex-wives and children? How can this man devote any
quality time to his children – teaching them about Islam and being a
constant role model?” She wrote.

Sayyidaty magazine, which interviewed al-Sayeri, also spoke to
psychiatrist Mona al-Sawwaf who said al-Sayeri does not treat a wife
as a human being “but as a piece of clothing he can change whenever he
pleases or an object.”

“The biggest blame lies with the parents” who let their daughters
enter such marriages, she said.

Al-Sayeri dismisses such critics as “crazy,” insisting he is not
breaching Islamic laws, which permit a man to have four wives at a

“I have a clear conscience,” he said.

None of Al-Sayeri’s ex-wives could be reached. He said many have
remarried, but to reveal their identity would be a gross violation of
Saudi custom. One of his sons said his mother has remarried, but
refused to give details.

Divorce has become quite common in the kingdom, with press reports
saying half of all marriages break up. But the fate of a divorced
woman depends on her parents’ frame of mind. If they oppose the
divorce, they likely will confine her to the house and monitor her
movements. She will be barred from dating or working without family

The notion of a single career woman barely exists here. Women cannot
even drive. They cannot get an education, travel or check into a hotel
without a male guardian’s permission.

Some parents, on the other hand, are modern-minded enough to let their
daughters finish their schooling or go out to work. And although
Islamic laws permit a man to have four wives at a time, most Muslim
men today take one wife, because it has become the cultural norm and
polygamy is costly.

Money is not an issue for al-Sayeri, who says he has made a fortune
trading in cars and property. He is a dark, medium-built man with
black mustache and goatee who heads the Sayer, a southern Bedouin
tribe. He also raises camels and horses.

He has had 10 sons, one of whom died. Two sons who were at the stable
while their father was being interviewed rolled their eyes whenever
the subject of marriages came up. They said they had come to accept
that their dad is “mizwaj,” a man who likes to marry often.

Fahd al-Sayeri, who inherited his father’s passion for horses,
recalled a desert hunting trip some 15 years ago in the remote Empty
Quarter. He and his friends had gone in search of gasoline when they
heard celebratory gunshots coming from a tent. They had come across a

“Out of politeness, we asked who’s wedding it was,” Fahd said.

“The guests responded with my father’s name. I was shocked,” he added.

It’s not that the elder al-Sayeri hides his marriages. He just doesn’t
always bother to spread the word. He said two of his daughters learned
they were sisters and two sons they were brothers at school.

Some wives even attend his weddings and bring the bride gifts. But he
said he keeps each wife in a separate villa and sometimes even in a
different town to keep the peace, and assures each that she’s his

Son Fahd, a 32-year-old bachelor, is adamant he won’t follow in his
father’s footsteps. “No, no, no,” he said. “One will be enough for

Al-Sayeri said he has married first cousins and women from about 30
tribes all over the kingdom. “As a leader of a tribe, I can’t marry
just anybody,” he said.

He said three of his four current wives have been with him 18 to 40
years. The fourth seems to be the one who usually gets replaced.

“It’s the one for renewal,” said al-Sayeri, sipping cardamom-flavored
coffee after a dinner of spicy lamb and rice. “I like to change my
fourth wife every year.”

His latest marriage – and at 10,000 guests his most sumptuous – was to
a 14-year-old girl nine months ago. She was the perfect age, he said.

When he heard about her, he sent his niece to check her out. She came
back with a favorable report.

Then he visited her family. When the girl came into the living room to
offer him refreshments – an excuse for him to see her face – he asked
her if she would marry him.

“She was shy at first and didn’t answer but then she said yes,” al-
Sayeri recalled. “Now, we’re such good friends it feels we’ve known
each other 40 years.”

A Saudi woman will usually marry whomever her family chooses, and
marriage is considered acceptable from the onset of puberty.

Al-Sayeri claims he has never forced a woman to marry him, and has
never been turned down. His ex-wives get a divorce settlement set out
in a prenuptial agreement and he supports the children, he said. He
said all his divorces are documented with court-issued papers that
usually follow this declaration to his wife: “You are divorced.”

He said today’s women are “more pleasant to have around.”

“They take better care of themselves, use makeup and do not run away
every time I want to touch them,” he said.

Al-Sayeri said he will keep on marrying until the number of wives he
has acquired equals the number of years he has lived.

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