One Map That Explains The Dangerous Saudi-Iranian Conflict

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Jon Schwartz via The Intercept,

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday. Hours later, Iranian protestors set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran. On Sunday, the Saudi government, which considers itself the guardian of Sunni Islam, cut diplomatic ties with Iran, which is a Shiite Muslim theocracy.

To explain what’s going on, the New York Times provided a primer on the difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam, informing us that “a schism emerged after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632” — i.e., 1,383 years ago.

But to the degree that the current crisis has anything to do with religion, it’s much less about whether Abu Bakr or Ali was Muhammad’s rightful successor and much more about who’s going to control something more concrete right now: oil.

In fact, much of the conflict can be explained by a fascinating map created by M.R. Izady, a cartographer and adjunct master professor at the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School/Joint Special Operations University in Florida.

What the map shows is that, due to a peculiar correlation of religious history and anaerobic decomposition of plankton, almost all the Persian Gulf’s fossil fuels are located underneath Shiites. This is true even in Sunni Saudi Arabia, where the major oil fields are in the Eastern Province, which has a majority Shiite population.

As a result, one of the Saudi royal family’s deepest fears is that one day Saudi Shiites will secede, with their oil, and ally with Shiite Iran.

This fear has only grown since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq overturned Saddam Hussein’s minority Sunni regime, and empowered the pro-Iranian Shiite majority. Nimr himself said in 2009 that Saudi Shiites would call for secession if the Saudi government didn’t improve its treatment of them.


The map shows religious populations in the Middle East and proven developed oil and gas reserves. Click to view the full map of the wider region. The dark green areas are predominantly Shiite; light green predominantly Sunni; and purple predominantly Wahhabi/Salafi, a branch of Sunnis. The black and red areas represent oil and gas deposits, respectively.

Source: Dr. Michael Izady at Columbia University, Gulf2000, New York

As Izady’s map so strikingly demonstrates, essentially all of the Saudi oil wealth is located in a small sliver of its territory whose occupants are predominantly Shiite. (Nimr, for instance, lived in Awamiyya, in the heart of the Saudi oil region just northwest of Bahrain.) If this section of eastern Saudi Arabia were to break away, the Saudi royals would just be some broke 80-year-olds with nothing left but a lot of beard dye and Viagra prescriptions.

Nimr’s execution can be partly explained by the Saudis’ desperation to stamp out any sign of independent thinking among the country’s Shiites.

The same tension explains why Saudi Arabia helped Bahrain, an oil-rich, majority-Shiite country ruled by a Sunni monarchy, crush its version of the Arab Spring in 2011.

Similar calculations were behind George H.W. Bush’s decision to stand by while Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in 1991 to put down an insurrection by Iraqi Shiites at the end of the Gulf War. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained at the time, Saddam had “held Iraq together, much to the satisfaction of the American allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia.”

Of course, it’s too simple to say that everything happening between Saudis and Iranians can be traced back to oil. Disdain and even hate for Shiites seem to be part of the DNA of Saudi Arabia’s peculiarly sectarian and belligerent version of Islam. In 1802, 136 years before oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia, the ideological predecessors to the modern Saudi state sacked Karbala, a city now in present-day Iraq and holy to Shiites. The attackers massacred thousands and plundered the tomb of Husayn ibn Ali, one of the most important figures in Shiite Islam.

Without fossil fuels, however, this sectarianism toward Shiites would likely be less intense today. And it would definitely be less well-financed. Winston Churchill once described Iran’s oil – which the U.K. was busy stealing at the time — as “a prize from fairyland far beyond our brightest hopes.”

Churchill was right, but didn’t realize that this was the kind of fairytale whose treasures carry a terrible curse.

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jm's picture

Shiites and Sunnis. Can't tell who is more crazy.


MrNosey's picture

It does not matter as they hate each other with enough passion to wipe each other out!



jm's picture

It is islam that should be wiped out, not the people.  


quintago's picture

As you can see in Exhibit A class, swing capacity doesn't mean shit in the event of a conflict.

quintago's picture

and +1 for the map saying Persian Gulf on it

Newsboy's picture

Persia is an ancient civilization and Persians/Iranians are most polite and observant. Islam was forced on them rather later in the game. It's not a home-grown religion. Whatever happened to Mithra, the original Dec. 25 Birthday Boy?

Skateboarder's picture

Persian hospitality is always first class.

shovelhead's picture

Hell yeah.

They'll make you a guest even if you don't want to be one.

two hoots's picture

US began increasing oil production (shale revolution) in 2009 and it has increase every year since.   US oil production was in decline since the mid-80's - 2009 but they knew of the shale capability well before new production started.

It is odd we basically destroyed (bombed) Iraq's ability (remember the oil field fires) and Irans' ability to produce/ship/pipe/sale oil at the same time?  This keep Saudi A as the supplier to cover new US production shortfalls  and other suppliers...bombed/sanctioned out.  So Iran attemps to go nuke so they can return to the oil table but that has been disrupted/delayed/stalled by....well everyone..and now the Saud's have gone full retard to stop them.  The US, now trapped and punishing its own, are directionless in the ME.  We were outplayed, out maneuvered and shot ourselves in the economic foot.  Possibly using global warming/terrorism  as a cover-up of why we need to get away from fossil fuels, now.   Was this the game (we lost) all along?


Missing:   Leviathan Basin (gas/oil) and Golan Height Oil that Israel claims?   Anyway, still an oil/gas issue either way. 

tempo's picture

shale is uneconomic at $100/bbl, it was created by $trillion dollars of debt financing that will never be paid back and be part of the next financial crisis. Combine shale, student loans and subprime 8 year car loans and you have 2007 subprime financial crisis times 10.

Lore's picture

The trouble is the same for many operators in Alberta who likewise hedged at substantially higher prices. Consolidation looms. Watch the share prices of your banks for an advance indication of big losses from all that debt.

Sincere compliments and gratitude to Dr. Izady for a superb map.

Dr. Izady's book at Amazon: The Kurds - a Concise History and Fact Book (1992)

11b40's picture

I love maps, and this one is a keeper. Showed it to my wife last night & she get's immediately.

Gonzogal's picture

An interesting point of view re US dependence on SA oil and its possible de-coupling from supporting SA.


BlindMonkey's picture

I can't wait to leave this God forsaken hell hole in the US and find out for myself.  


I have been to Germany, Austria, Argentina, Canada and Chile in 2015 and every one of them had a better 'feel' than the US.

Albertarocks's picture

If you liked that feel, imagine what it feels like to be a Canadian travelling abroad.  We don't have a lot of enemies, and although our reputation 30 years ago was a bit better than it is today, people in most countries really make us feel at home.  Even Americans, who are by far the worst Canada bashers on the face of the earth, even Americans are pretty nice to us when we hook up face to face.  I'll tell you what is a mind blowing journey though... being a Canadian going to Holland.  They have never forgotten that it was the Canadian army who went in there and beat the crap out of the Germans, driving every last one of them out of the Netherlands.  And the Germans had treated the Dutch brutally for 5 years, starving them.  The Canadians brought food too, dropping it from planes until the rout was completed.

So even to this day, if the Dutch find out you're a Canadian, you never pay for another meal while you're in that country.  It's awesome when peoples get along so well.  Americans could experience that if their government weren't such a bunch of war mongering c*nts.  I truly hope that glorious day comes for all of you.  You, as human beings, deserve to have peace instead of what your government rains down upon you.  If the congress wasn't such a bunch of traitorous sell-outs, and had the balls to tell the fascists ruling them to screw off, you could have peace. 

Lore's picture

On holiday tours and in international relations, a little humility goes a long way.

Enough said?

DownWithYogaPants's picture

You are talking with a lispppp.  You sound like Daffy Duck saying "Mithra"

Albertarocks's picture

I agree completely.  I have met people from darned near every culture in Canada and I can say that the Iranians I have met are very, very different from what we often see in the media as the crazies... the wild eyed gunslingers who spout all those blood curdling threats at just about everybody who isn't one of them.

Iranians are very cool headed, soft spoken, gentle, and most of all just brimming with pride and confidence.  They are fully aware that they are descendents of an ancient and proud culture.  They think of it almost as "Iran is my country, Persia is my soul".  I was just stunned at their level of confidence, which I suppose is why they have no need to get in anybody's face yelling profanities and threats.  They are not afraid of Israel in the slightest.  Not even a little bit.

And it doesn't hurt their image any that Iranians are really nice looking people.  A lot of those ladies, OMG they are gorgeous.  Even the men are very clean and tidy.  And to top it off, Iran itself has some stunningly beautiful areas that our media will never, ever tell us about.  Here is a link so you can see what I'm talking about:

And no, I am not an Iranian trying to present an image as I want you to see it.  I'm a white ass honkey Canadian of Irish ancestry.  I'm just telling the truth as I have seen it.

Dadburnitpa's picture

Glad that you have had that positive experience. However, in the late 70's when I was finishing up at the university, we had a very large number of male Iranian students who were there, (it was an engineering school).  They were the "revolutionary types".  This was when the Shah was getting forced out of Iran.  These guys were VERY in your face, very loud, obnoxious. There were frequent altercations with students.  I spent my adult life traveling around and living in different countries and met a few Iranians who had left Iran.  THEY were the self-confident and polite types you describe.  But, they left.  The guys in charge now in Iran are the revolutionaries who I saw in school. This isn't a comment on the population in general, but basically the elites who now rule. They are fucking nuts.  Back then, when they got in our face, you just punched them out and moved on.  They were like over-emotional, underweight scarecrows.  Nobody made a big deal about fights in college towns in those days.  There was no talking with those guys.  They were crazed and looked it.

Albertarocks's picture

I hear ya.  And I appreciate your experiences as well.  We're about the same age.  I remember the days of "the Shah of Iran".  I was very naive back then and didn't know what was going on in the world, nor did I know who runs it, and who is responsible for the current global economic crisis, nor did I know that they are the same people who ignite every war in history and then fund both sides.

But yeah, back in those days I thought the Shaw of Iran was a great guy.  And then he was assassinated right on TV and I had no idea why that happened.  So when I speak highly of the Iranians I have met, I also accept that not all of them are the same.  Hell, I don't even think they are all the same religion, so of course there would be different types.  Maybe the reason I am meeting nice Iranians in Canada is because they decided they'd had enough of the nuts who you say are running the show over there now.

In any case, have a great weekend and keep up the good fight.

Dadburnitpa's picture

Thanks same to you. I think you must be thinking of Sadat who was was killed by the Islamic Jihad.  The Shah died of cancer in Egypt in '80.

Albertarocks's picture

Yes, of course.  You are correct.  I was thinking of Anwar Sadat who got assassinated.  But the rest of my story is still more or less in tact.  I thought the Shah was a great ally, one of only a few we had over there at the time.  He came across as being a nice man but I have no idea whether he really was or not.  I was so naive and I have made it a point to teach my children well.  Thankfully they are much more aware at 30 than I was.

I should also tell you that back in the days when all those Americans were taken hostage, that was in Iran as you know.  And while that was going on, I was a construction superintendent in charge of building 3 high rises.  At Christmas that year there was a party and all the crews got together.  One of the crews was a bunch of Moslems from Lebanon.  They were good to work with, never caused any trouble.  But at the party, once they got loosened up, they were all about supporting the reasons why the Americans were being held.  And of course I was on the other side, telling them that those hostages were innocents and should be returned home immediately.

That's when they got into the "brother" thing... stating that those hostages were equivalent to "brothers" of all Americans and therefore they were suitable as hostages.  But as you pointed out, there was absolutely no way of talking any sense into those people.  They were irrational.  Their arguments were not logical.  It was as if I was arguing with people who threw out logic just to "make things fit" the case they were trying to make.

If not for the fact that we had to go back to work together in a few days, the fists could have easily been flying.  It did get heated but not to the point of yelling.  But still, everybody was drinking, they were stupid and I was Irish.  Haha

lincolnsteffens's picture


A voice of reason in a sea of manufactured hatred. Pretty much most cultures, races and religious groups ( maybe not the Thuggies ) are like that. We are constantly bombarded with images and propaganda to make us feel threatened and to hate the government's identified source of the threat. Certain manufactured and or genuine villains are identified as worse than Hitler but the implication often is that the villain's countrymen are about as evil.

There is a concept called  mirroring. When we have an unfamiliar object of our programmed hatred in front of us, it is a reflection of our own insecurities that we are hated. These planted insecurities in our subconscious are triggered every time we are confronted in our consciousness with the object assigned the fear and hatred identity.

This is one technique that is used against us to surrender to authorities who pretend to guarantee safety.  First the secret desired  result was planned. After the desired result is planned, a reason is invented or searched for to get people to clamor for a solution to an invented problem. The false savior appears offering the solution. Then we clamor for the savior to implement his solution which brings about the further restrictions of freedom. This solution also adds to the cost of debt serfdom profiting bankers and the bureaucracy.

Albertarocks's picture

You nicely describe "the Hegelian dialect", which in a nutshell is "problem, reaction... solution".

Kirk2NCC1701's picture

Ditto for the other two Abrahamic religions, whose followers are responsible for all the mega-wars, fiat money, etc.

Time to ditch the witch that is Organized Religion, and put it where it belongs: on the same level as astrology.

Time to create a better reason to live, to die, and how to live.

But then, what would sociopathic rulers do, or even rise to power, if religion weren't Useful?

jm's picture

They become communists.

Raisuli's picture

Suppose that a better reason to live has been found, would that not give the sociopaths enough push to self destruct?

daveO's picture

''But then, what would sociopathic rulers do, or even rise to power, if religion weren't Useful?''

Run off with her old college roomy. Adopt 23 cats and poison the neighbors' dogs?

Lore's picture

re: "What would sociopathic rulers do...?"

Create a new religion.

Agenda 21

Gaia: A Goddess Reborn

Ghordius's picture

"It is islam that should be wiped out, not the people."

generally speaking, attempt to eradicate religions (or even ideologies) REINFORCE THEM

The trick is more to propose... alternatives. Tolerance, when wielded properly, has killed more religions and -isms, particularly virulent and extreme forms of them, while OPPRESSION FANS THE FLAMES

The Extremist has a natural "ally" in the extremist on the other side. And both engage in POLARIZATION

Anti-Islamism as such has an applauding public of radical extremists and fundamentalists... on several sides, including terrorist of all stripes and persuations

Truther's picture

Saudi Arabia expresses its fear to Nato and the USSA. The ultimate goal and prize of this boondungle is Iran, Russia's doorsteps, U.S. Hegemony.

Fuck anyone whose last name is Bin Saud.

Sorry_about_Dresden's picture

You need to do your DD. Persians are the most civilized people on Earth.

All Wahabi, Sunni,  scum should be annihilated!

jm's picture

Iran has plenty of crazies.  The meme being pushed in the article omits any reference to it. Ahmedinejad, despite his wild backstory, became president of Iran and set up a clandestine torture shop under cleric command that made SAVAK look benign. The Iranian regime is literally run by a bunch of religious nuts dedicated to  Shi'i islam, just as much as Wahhabis run Saudi Arabia.  The common root, islam, is a plague to humanity, just as communism was.  Persian women get abused like Saudi gals, probably not the same in degree, but the same in kind. The link below makes this important point. I don't think the actress mentioned below was flogged, but the regime is not above whipping an acclaimed celebrity if the situation benefits from it.

I do perceive some differences, but for the doubters, consider this point.  North Sea, 1970s: huge oil reserves were found, yet Norway, England, and the Netherlands didn't declare an eternal jihad over it, nor even go to war. Compare how civilized peoples and nations relate to each other compared to the uncivilized.  


besnook's picture

i prefer to blame things on people but if you want to blame religion, the abrahamics are fucking nutz, all of you. the jews are the nuttiest by far. what kind of benevolent god would exclude most of the world's people and teach its followers that anyone who does not worship the jewish god is subhuman and it is proper to treat them that way in the 21st century?

jm's picture
Mohammad said his "tribe" would forever be the leaders of the islamic state, just like the jews being the "chosen people" .  But there is a big difference between a grating arrogance that says "everyone not like us will not be in heaven after death"(not sure even a fanatic jew would even say that) and a bloodthirsty islamic fanatic that says "it is a good thing to kill everyone not like us" (there are absolutely islamic fanatics that say this).



Jews aren't the ones blowing themselves up by stuffing a hand grenade up their hijab, or dropping their infant off at day cafe so they can kill the infidel down at the chic-fil-a by noon. As to theology, I dissagree with a huge amount of organized religion.   But if it isn't prone to barbarism and hurting others, I don't really give a flip.  islam permits barbarism and exploitation of the worst kind and always has.   “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”

Keynes was flawed here only because he didn't include religious fanatics as the slave-masters.


bid the soldiers shoot's picture

When you think about it, those who say they don't believe in God are really saying they don't believe in religion.  They don't even consider the existence of God when they are asked if they believe in Him.  They only consider what those who claimed to hear God talking to them said that God told them.

To most of world, God is an A PRIORI object.  While for a few (the REAL chosen few) God is an EMPIRICAL phenomenon.  

jm's picture

I doubt God cares much what we think about our place and role. This is a hostile world full of toxins and killing machines like scorpions that the mind of man could never cook up. We aren't supposed to figure it all out.  The best we can do is try to do good, have what portion of fun is possible, and don't go crazy when everything is an epic fail. Never boring and I like it.

I know, I sound like Omar Khayyam.




bid the soldiers shoot's picture

If you divide the world into those who are interested in the meaning of life and those who are interested in making millions of dollars, I don't have to tell you who wins.

The founders of all the religions all began with a description of God that wasn't accurate.  Then they wrote in their holy books rules, fables and parables which, if followed, would lead the supplicant to eternal life in paradise, heaven or nirvana or reincarnation.

Is intercourse with God today is impossible because of the iProselytization of the a priori God on the internet?

It's hard to look at the world's disorders now without thinking, if you believe there is a God, that 'yes', these look like the end of days.

I see everything you see, plus I have my theory that the earth will go into 'peak oil' in 30 or 40 years spelling the end of capitalism and bringing bedlam to all.


If I was stranded on a desert island and could have only one quotation with me it would be Omar Khayyam's "The Moving Finger Writes And Having Writ Moves On...". (sorry, Oscar)

Lore's picture

Eschatologists of every generation see "End of Days" around the corner.  Con men exploit it in their effort to sway sheeple to their own agenda: "Do as I say! It's the will of God." It's a very old formula. 

That said, I sure hope God is watching and listening, because these are scary times.

It would be convenient to see peak oil spelling an end to capitalism, but we haven't really had true capitalism for a while.

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

No doubt when we die, it is for us, End of Days.

'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there's the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause

Sooner or later the boy who cries wolf will be spot on.

:o /

Raisuli's picture

Well stated. Empiricism is not what many believe they think they experience, or is it?

Time for another sip....

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

Discovering God empirically can take a lifetime, especially if that wasn't your goal

A bright 14 year old can know everything there is to know about God taking the a priori route.

SuperRay's picture

No, Zionist Jews are much more subtle and get other people to do their killing

adjudged's picture

No, but the Jews are quietly pulling the strings that keep the murder and mayhem pot thoroughly stirred (to mix a bunch of metaphors).

slightlyskeptical's picture

Jews are called the chosen people because God chose them to spread the word of God. That was it. It is not because they were chosen to exclusively be with God. The Christians believe that instead. Unfortunately some Jews took this to mean that they should be in charge of all the worlds affairs, when all it means is that they are to be held to a higher standard because of this responsibility.many Jews want to do away with the whole "chosen people" idea because it is so misunderstood. The same Jews would also like to get rid of those Jews who cling to this misunderstanding.

Not jewish, raised Christian.

bid the soldiers shoot's picture

Is it wise, besnook, to question God's judgement and why He ordained religions, like Scientology, for example?  

It is obviously part of His Plan.  

You and I may not approve, but just as "there is providence in the fall of a sparrow", there is also providence in the comeuppance of Dianetics.

You and jm should also remember that except for the passage of time there is very little difference between Islam today and Christianity of the 11th century. 

That doesn't excuse the muslim crazies today, but where's the morality in ignoring the fact that the first Crusade slaughtered every man, woman and child in Jerusalem?

daveO's picture

Too much African blood.

lincolnsteffens's picture

Besnook, I was never taught the disgusting religion you describe and I am not aware any of my extended family of about 70 was taught or practiced that. Just like I know and relate as equals to people of other religions, when I come across a dishonest Jew I make an exception and tell them that I expect a higher level of morality from them because they are Jews. Call that prejudice if you like.

The Jewish God you speak of is the same God of the Muslims and Christians. Though decended from Jews I practice no religion. I only practice being a good human being and try not to harm others.I wince at anyones religious dogma that they claim is fact and the word of God.

I don't know where you got your stated belief from but I have never encountered it. This smacks of something you have been taught but not experienced.

besnook's picture

it is common knowledge from the regular exultatations that mixed marriage is destroying the religion to actual dogma from the various books and scholars(rabbis) who constantly repeat it.

i am glad you prescibe to the totality of be good, do good, think good but to assert that the jew/goyim divide does not exist in the teachings of the religion is ignorant.

Your guess is as good as mine's picture

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have assured Iran that the beheading of the cleric was performed under strict Halal conditions.