Sunday, October 01, 2006

Saudi Arabia To Build a Fence Along Its Border With Iraq

Building fences along borders seems to be all the rage these days:

Security in Iraq has collapsed so dramatically that Saudi Arabia has ordered the construction of a 550-mile high-tech fence to seal off its troubled northern neighbour.

The huge project to build the barrier, which will be equipped with ultraviolet night-vision cameras, buried sensor cables and thousands of miles of barbed wire, will snake across the vast and remote desert frontier between the countries.

The fence will be built despite the hundreds of millions of pounds that the Saudi kingdom has spent in the past two years to beef up patrols on its border with Iraq, with officials saying the crisis in Iraq is now so dangerous it must be physically shut out.

"Surveillance has already been stepped up over the past 18 months," said Nawaf Obaid, the director of the Saudi National Security Assessment Project, an institute that advises the government on security affairs.

"But the feeling in Saudi is that Iraq is way out of control with no possibility of stability. The urgency now is to get that border sealed: physically sealed."

The fence is a fresh sign that key allies of the United States in the Middle East are resigned to worsening violence and the possible break-up of Iraq, where American intelligence agencies said this week that the continuing conflict fuelled global terrorism. The National Intelligence Estimate, a report compiled by 16 spy agencies, concluded that the Iraq war had become a cause célèbre for Islamic extremists and was cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement

For Saudi Arabia, whose nationals have been accused of playing a key role as foreign fighters in the Iraq insurgency, the deterioration in its northern neighbour is a security nightmare.

Saudi officials are worried about so-called "blowback", in which Saudi insurgents in Iraq bring jihad back to the streets of Riyadh and Jeddah. But they are mostly concerned that an Iraqi civil war will send a wave of refugees south, unsettling the kingdom's Shia minority in its oil-producing east.

"If and when Iraq fragments there's going to be a lot of people heading south and that is when we have to be prepared," said Mr Obaid.

Juan Cole points out the obvious:

... The Saudi security fence is a huge vote of no-confidence in the Iraq that Bush built. Let's put it this way. Americans think of the puritanical Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia as the most militant of the Muslims. Now, the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia are saying that they are afraid of the Iraqis. What does that tell you? Or what does it tell the American public that the Saudi government views Iraq rather the way the Israeli government views the Palestinians?

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