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Saudi Arabia’s Iraq Policy

Confused and counterproductive.

Nov 15, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 09 • By TONY BADRAN
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In stark contrast to the Saudis, the Iranians have played their hand in Iraq pragmatically. They knew that none of their Shiite friends had a serious shot at challenging Maliki, so they figured that it was better to stick with him and find a way to plant Sadr in his cabinet. Iran sees Sadr as its long-term investment—head of a political and military movement similar to its Lebanese asset, Hezbollah—and with him in Maliki’s coalition, Tehran would have a seat in the cabinet. From that perch, the Iranians believe that they would be able to pressure the government on their key issues of concern, like security appointments and U.S. basing rights in Iraq. 

Either the Obama administration did not appreciate the damage the Saudis were doing, or, even worse, were not able to lean on Riyadh to fall in line. In either case, it is the end result of the magical thinking behind the ISG report. Washington’s authority regarding Iraq is now diminished because ISG strategy is premised on a fundamental misconception—if all of Washington’s efforts were directed toward the goal of withdrawing, none of Iraq’s neighbors would take the American bargaining position seriously. If we wanted to give everyone else in the region a stake in Iraq, the region saw it otherwise—that we were abandoning our own stake and getting nothing in return.

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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