Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Closing the Ring

Here is the bout that we've all been waiting for, the one the papers said was never going to happen. While the Saudi and US governments publicly celebrate their mutual solidarity in the War on Terror, their forces on the ground have begun a steel-cage deathmatch. The Financial Times describes how thousands of Saudi Arabian Islamists have crossed over into Iraq to drive the American infidel from Arab land.

According to Saad al-Faguih, a UK-based Saudi dissident, the Saudi authorities are concerned that up to 3,000 Saudi men have gone "missing" in the kingdom in two months, although it is not clear how many have crossed into Iraq. Saudis who have gone to Iraq have established links with sympathetic Iraqis in the northern area between Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit, where they have hidden in safe-houses, a Saudi Islamist source said on Monday.

This comes when Al-Qaeda is mounting an open challenge to the Saudi Royal family itself. A series of attacks on Saudi targets, expatriate housing facilities and an aborted plot to destroy airliners at Riyadh airport has shattered the facade of calm in the desert kingdom. And the attacks are being coordinated by none other than Osama Bin Laden.

A letter from Osama bin Laden and a telephone call made from Iran by his son Saad are linked to a series of al-Qa'ida attacks on Westerners in Saudi Arabia, according to Western diplomats and Saudi intelligence officials. The letter from al-Qa'ida's leader was found on the body of Yosif Salih Fahd Alayeeri, one of 19 attackers involved in a closely co-ordinated series of bombings in Riyadh on 12 May, who was killed in a shootout with security forces in central Saudi Arabia in May. The Saudi authorities have refused to divulge the contents of the letter, confirming only that it was found on the dead terrorist. Two days before the bombings, which killed 34 people, including nine Americans and two Britons, Saad bin Laden made a telephone call from somewhere in Iran to another member of the same al-Qa'ida gang, according to a senior Western diplomat. The unidentified Saudi suspect was arrested as part of a crackdown on Islamist militants after the May bombings. Authorities said he had revealed the details of the telephone conversation between himself and Saad bin Laden under interrogation.

The Saudi Royals have belatedly mounted a defense. Utilizing their position as guardians of Muslim holy places, they Sauds have issued a fatwa proscribing terrorism directed against Muslims (i.e. them). They have attempted to stem the flow of oil money to Al-Qaeda. It is all too little and late. The serpent bred for decades by Saudi Wahabism has turned on its master and will no longer return to its cage. The Saudi princes may speak to President Bush, but the question is now whether they can speak for Saudi Arabia. The locus of Islamic terrorism was never Iraq. It was always in the Kingdom and the oil wells that gave it potency. Yet it would never have done for Americans to tell the Muslims that. They would have to discover it for themselves. There are moments when the faithful of a world religion find devil in themselves and go on to either cleansing or damnation. In a world awaiting that decision, is it any surprise that the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad has been destroyed by a suicide bomber?

Baghdad Iraq, Aug. 19 — A suicide bomber drove a gleaming new cement mixer full of explosives into the side of the United Nations compound here today and blew it up, killing 17 people and wounding at least 100 in an attack on one of the principal agencies in charge of rebuilding Iraq. The bomb demolished the three-story converted hotel that served as the United Nations headquarters, scattering the wounded and the remains of the dead. United Nations employees, many of them recently flown in from Europe and the United States, crawled and ran from the wreckage, their clothes torn and splattered with blood. Many were delirious, calling out to friends and colleagues left in the rubble behind. Among the dead was Sergio Vieira de Mello, 55, the United Nations secretary general's special representative in Iraq.

The real shock was that international civil servants would continue to believe that they were somehow above the fray. 'How could this happen to us, the Internationals?' How disappointing that the mantle of anti-Americanism did not protect them. Yet they still cannot utter the name of the enemy who struck them down and continue to nurture them. In a rational world, the BBC would close its Islamic prayer rooms, the EU would stop paying ransom to Algerian hostage takers,  the United Nations would withdraw the observer status it has bestowed on the Palestine Liberation Authority and France would withdraw its subsidy for the madrassas which advocate a French Islamic state. But like the Sauds, who long believed that appeasement would protect them, the 'progressive forces' of the world have clung too long to their illusions. And now, perhaps, it is too late.