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Saudi Arabia's Partition & Bahrain Annexation To 'Aramco Republic' Are Hot Scenarios.

** The Hashemites Are Said To Be Awaiting Bush Green Light To March Back To The Hejaz

** The Saudi Govt. Is Now Hitting Back At US Allegations That Wahhabism Is The Root Cause Of Worldwide Terrorism By Charging That The 'Christian Fundamentalism' Of The Bush Administration's Supporters Is Affecting US Policies In The Region

** Baghdad Says Abu Nidal's Death Was A 'Suicide'; Washington Says This Is Yet Another Proof That Iraq Harbours Terrorists

NICOSIA - Among wild scenarios beamed out of the US media is one which has Americans in control of what Saudi Arabia calls "the Eastern Province", with the newly proclaimed Kingdom of Bahrain annexed to it. This scenario was the subject of discussion on Aug. 16 in the Qatar-based 'Al Jazeera' TV channel as the King of Bahrain, Shaikh Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, set out in a scramble for cover on a visit to Iran.

Along with such scenarios, a wild rumour making the rounds is that the US chased the Iraqis out of Kuwait in early 1991 because Saddam Hussein failed to invade Saudi Arabia and thus be entrapped by the Americans. The rumour has it that Saddam at the time ordered his forces to stop at Khafji and wait for further signals that then president George Bush, father of the current US President George W. Bush, would not alter course if the Iraqis proceeded to invade Saudi Arabia. By then King Hussein of Jordan (the Hashemite monarch who died in February 1999) had grown a beard in preparation for what Saddam had called for "the Hashemites' return to their rightful homeland in the Hejaz". Saddam had proclaimed himself as a kin of the Hashemites and called Saudi Arabia "the most artificial family estate in the world".

This is the mood among Arab Internet surfers. On the Israeli side, the defence ministry of Ariel Sharon's government says anti-radiation pills will be distributed as part of civil defence preparations when a US-led attack against Saddam's Iraq begins. The Sharon government is also considering vaccinating the population against smallpox, a disease eradicated worldwide in 1979 but which, it is feared, could be spread through a Saddam missile. Anthony Cordesman of Washington's Centre for Strategic and International Studies, in an assessment presented to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July, warned that if Iraq delivered lethal biological agents against an Israeli city, "Israel would probably massively retaliate with nuclear ground bursts against every Iraqi city not already occupied by US-led coalition forces".

One indicator that thinking about a dismemberment of Saudi Arabia was underway in the US came in a leak of a briefing given at the Pentagon to the Defence Policy Board by the Rand Corp., a prestigious think-tank which receives US government funds. The briefing, prepared by Frenchman Laurent Murawiec and presented on July 10, stated that Saudi Arabia was "the kernel of evil" and should be provided with an ultimatum that if Riyadh did not stop supporting terrorism, the US would seize its oilfields. 'The Washington Post' on Aug. 6 quoted a Bush administration official as saying: "People used to rationalize Saudi behaviour. You don't hear that anymore. There's no doubt that people are recognizing reality and recognizing that Saudi Arabia is a problem". These sentiments and the thrust of the Rand briefing were later dismissed by the administration as not reflecting official views (see News Service No. 7). Saudi investors, meanwhile, have begun shifting tens of billions of dollars out of the US.

Middle East public opinion takes a US attack on Iraq for granted. The scenarios for Saudi Arabia would unfold from that point, i.e. after the US has secured control of the second largest concentration of oil reserves in the world. It is assumed that, when Iraq comes under US control, Washington will tackle the Saudi problem as outlined in the leaked Rand briefing. At the same time, US companies would rapidly expand the country's oil production and export capacity.

If things develop as speculated in the Arab World, the time would then be right for the US to issue an ultimatum, which if implemented by Saudi Arabia would mean the end of Riyadh's current system. In the event of a rejection, the US would seize the Eastern Province, where the oil reserves include the Ghawar oilfield which is by far the biggest in the world.

Such wild scenarios are not being ruled out elsewhere, with 'The New Statesman' of Britain having reported recently that Whitehall and Westminister - the seats of British government - had been discussing the notion of a partitioned Saudi Arabia. In the Muslim communities of the Middle East, where the conspiracy theory is ingrained due to a lack of transparency in political life, speculations made by Western think-tanks are taken for granted to reflect official intentions. And governments are scrambling for cover, especially in the Persian Gulf.

Bahrain, likely to be affected more than any other Gulf monarchy by instability in Saudi Arabia, is particularly concerned in view of its dependence on Riyadh and the US. Its King, Shaikh Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, visited Iran on Aug. 17-18 with a big delegation of cabinet ministers and businessmen intending to explore Iranian investment opportunities and attract Iranian investment in Bahrain. It was the first visit to Iran by a Bahraini ruler since the 1979 Islamic revolution. In the mid-1990s, Manama had accused Iran of fomenting unrest among Bahrain's Shiite majority.

Anxiety in the Middle East has been caused by the constant media reports in the West and in other parts of the world about an impending attack on Iraq, worsening US relations with Saudi Arabia and a steady expansion of the war against terror, a war which focuses mainly on Muslims. There is a feeling in the region, compounded by the conspiracy theory, that the grounds are being prepared for the whole map of the Middle East to change. The anxiety is aggravated by hawks in the US and Europe constantlty referring to the need for "regime change" in the area and for the introduction of Western-style democracy.

Like the rulers, therefore, the people are also scrambling for cover. The move by Bahraini businessmen to look for investment opportunities in Iran, and the steady accumulation of properties by wealthy Saudis in Lebanon reflect this anxiety. One rumour says the Saudi royal family is preparing the grounds to move to Lebanon through where the billionaire Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri who also has Saudi nationality, has been buying property of its behalf since the early 1990s.

There are increasing fears among wealthy Saudis that their assets in the US would be frozen if relations get worse. A less public debate among Saudi Arabia's elite is whether to punish the US by pricing oil in euros rather than dollars - a shift the Riyadh government opposed when it was proposed by other OPEC members a few years ago.

It is speculated that Washington may freeze Saudi assets if there are signs of a co-ordinated withdrawal of investments in the US - estimated to total $600 bn. The freeze would be explained as being necessary in order to pay the survivors and relatives of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks; they have sued Saudi organisations and individuals - including the powerful Defence Minister, Prince Sultan Ibn Abdel Aziz, and two other members of the royal family - for trillions of dollars in damages, a move seen in Saudi Arabia as an attempt to extort money.

The flight of Saudi funds from the US began immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, as the Bush administration briefly froze Saudi assets after it was discovered that 15 of the 19 Islamist attackers were Saudis. Now the smaller Saudi investors, with funds of around $50m invested in the US, are trying to get their funds out as quickly as possible, according to a report in the 'International Herald Tribune' of Aug. 22. A report in 'The Financial Times' on Aug. 21 quoted one analyst as saying withdrawals by individual Saudi investors may amount to as much as $200 bn and their loss may have contributed to recent falls in the value of the dollar. The IHT suggests, however, that there is little evidence to indicate an outflow of such large sums.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 26, 2002
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