In a recent poll at an online forum of radical Islamists closely associated with al Qaeda in Iraq, the participants overwhelmingly endorsed taking the fight to Saudi Arabia (72 to 28% in favor). In the same timeframe, al Qaeda’s commander in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has openly denounced the royal family of Saudi Arabia. “The (Saudi) tyrants are traitors to the nation and its religion, who have waged war against the mujahideen and allowed the Crusaders into the peninsula of Prophet Mohammad to loot its wealth and spread corruption From what we have seen of these tyrants, their rule has no legitimacy.”
Counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann states al Qaeda in Iraq’s desire to take the fight to Saudi Arabia “is yet another sign of the impending “bleedout” effect from the conflict in Iraq.” But this is misleading, as it implies al Qaeda attacks on Saudi Arabia stem from the war in Iraq, and that al Qaeda is confining its actions to Iraq in the region.
Al Qaeda has been openly at war with Saudi Arabia since the summer of 2003, in conjuction with its operations in Iraq, Chechnya, Indonesia, Kashmir, Pakistan, and a host of other theaters. The most recent battle was fought this week in the port city of Damman, where five al Qaeda members on the Kingdom’s most wanted list (its third such list, after the first two were essentially completed) were killed in an assault by Saudi security forces. Zarqawi is merely following the lead of Osama bin Laden, who last December praised attacks within the kingdom, endorsed the overthrow of the al-Saud regime, and called for attacks on oil infrastructure.
So the question isn’t whether al Qaeda wishes to wage war on the kingdom, because they already are at war, but whether they wish to divert resources from Iraq to do so. If they are indeed willing to divert resources, then they:
• believe Iraq is going poorly, and are moving resources from the battlefield, using the precept that they desire to war with the al-Saud regime.
• see a weakness in the Saudi government that they wish to exploit, and calculate that bringing down the Saudi regime would force the U.S. to divert resources from Iraq.
• are making the statements for political reasons, and the statements are designed to shore up the ranks of al Qaeda, strike fear into the west and further drive up the cost of oil, and reach out to the disaffected citizens of Saudi Arabia.
No matter what Zarqawi’s reasoning is for threatening to escalate the war in Saudi Arabia, the end results would be positive. An escalation of fighting in Saudi Arabia would force the regime to take the terrorist threat more seriously to preserve their lock on power. Saudi security forces have been quite adept at hunting al Qaeda on their soil (Security Watchtower has an interesting graphic on the Saudi’s results. This graphic only includes two of the three Saudi’s al Qaeda most wanted list. The inclusion of the third list would make this graphic all the more impressive.) Any diversion of jihadi manpower from Iraq relieves pressure on Coalition forces, particularly during the current operations in western and northern Iraq and the upcoming elections. Diluting al Qaeda’s strength in Iraq and sending its fighters into the maw of the Saudi security forces is not a formula for the terrorist’s success.