As we reported yesterday, things in Iraq are not only going from bad to worse when it comes to the conflict between ISIS and the government army (with the country's largest refinery one minute in the hands of the Al Qaeda jihadists, the next back in the hands of the army, until the process is repeated) but what's even worse is that they are increasingly not going according to plan. Case in point: the dramatic reversion by the country's Shi'ite PM Maliki, who not only defied the US in refusing to reach out to Sunnis to "defuse the uprising in the north of the country", but had the temerity to do what many say is speak the truth, when he accused US ally Saudi Arabia for promoting the fighting in the country, accusing it of spreading genocide: "We hold them responsible for supporting these groups financially and morally, and for the outcome of that - which includes crimes that may qualify as genocide: the spilling of Iraqi blood, the destruction of Iraqi state institutions and historic and religious sites," the Iraqi government said of Riyadh in a statement.
Moments ago Saudi Arabia fired back at Iraq's "harsh words" and warned that Iraq faced the threat of full-scale civil war with grave consequences for the wider region and, in a message to arch rival Iran, warned against outside powers intervening in the conflict.
"This grave situation that is storming Iraq carries with it the signs of civil war whose implications for the region we cannot fathom," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a gathering of Arab and Muslim leaders in Jeddah.
He urged nations racked by violence to meet the "legitimate demands of the people and to achieve national reconciliation (without) foreign interference or outside agendas".
It was unclear if "foreign interference" includes the US as well, or just limited to Iran.
As Reuters reports, Saud did not elaborate but the remarks appeared aimed at Shi'ite Iran, a key ally of the Maliki government. On Wednesday, Iran said it would not hesitate to defend Shi'ite holyl sites in Iraq against "killers and terrorists".
Further, it comes following headlines moments ago stating that:
- IRAN WOULD RESPOND TO REQUEST FOR HELP FROM IRAQ, OFFICIAL SAYS
Saudi said the three-year civil war in Syria, where a largely Sunni Muslim uprising has failed to unseat President Bashar al-Assad, another ally of Iran, had "helped to deepen the internal disturbance in Iraq."
On Monday, Saudi Arabia blamed the Iraqi crisis on Maliki, citing what it called years of "sectarian and exclusionary policies" by his government against Iraq's Sunni minority.
And then there was this hitting moments ago, indicating Iraq intends to further pressure Saudi:
- IRAQIS KILL SAUDI ‘TERRORIST’ IN BAIJI REFINERY FIGHT: IRAQIYA
In short: the situation in Iraq, already a jumble of domestic sectarian violence, is now pitting virtually all major (and regional) international players against each other as well. There is:
- US which tacitly supports Iran intervention in the region, but may have suddenly cooled in its support of Maliki despite sending naval and troop forces in the country after partially evacuating its embassy
- Saudi Arabia which wants to remain friendly with the US but is antagonistic to the Iraq regime, is potentially aiding the ISIS forces, and clearly refuses to allow Iran entrance in Iraq
- Iran, which has suddenly become America's best friend in the region, which is willing to enter Iraq and protect its holy sites
- Syria, whose president is sitting back amused at last year's failed campaign by the US to remove him from power, and whose army is at a stalemate with the local US-armed and funded rebels
- Qatar, which is supporting the Syrian rebels, but so far has not made its stance clear on Iraq. Like Saudi, it too may be indirectly backing ISIS
- Jordan, which is a close friend the US, and which may have hosted ISIS in a secret base on its territory with the US instructing the jihadist group according to an unconfirmed report
- Turkey, which is on constant alert to Kurdish escalation across the border, the same Kurds which now have far more leverage courtesy of ISIS crushing the Iraq army in the north and handing over Kurds access to oil fields in the north.
- And of course Russia: because while Putin clearly benefits from rising crude prices, it is his Lukoil that is developing (and investing vast amounts of money in) the vast Iraqi West Qurna-2 oil field. It is not clear how he would feel about it falling into ISIS hands.
Confused yet? Don't worry: the middle east is the very definition of fluid, shifting alliances. By the end of the day it is quite likely that half of the bullet points above are no longer valid or relevant.