There are three things that the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia strives for above all others: peace, stability and security, for the international community, for our region, and for our country and our people, whether they are old or young, men or women, Sunni or Shia. These are the cornerstones of our government and they lie at the foundation of our thinking.
The escalating and alarming situation in Iraq is of serious concern. These are our neighbours, our friends, and we watch with distress as this terrible situation escalates next to us.
As our foreign minister, HRH Prince Saud al Faisal, told the Islamic Conference of regional leaders in Jeddah this week, “this grave situation… carries with it signs of civil war that has implications for the region we cannot fathom”. The number of the dead is mounting into the hundreds, maybe thousands, with many thousands of ordinary Iraqi citizens being displaced. These are people who have suffered enough – too much, indeed. Their families have withstood a long war with Iran as well as a violent and repressive regime under Saddam Hussein and the ensuing civil war, before an uneasy peace was brokered less than a decade ago.
As neighbours and fellow Muslims, we despair for them and pray for them all – innocent families, men, women and children – in this critical situation. We wish to see the protection of all civilians and the alleviation of their current suffering.
So where do we stand? Despite the false allegations of the Iraqi cabinet, whose exclusionary policies have fomented this current crisis, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia supports the preservation of Iraq’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.
We also absolutely oppose all foreign intervention and interference. So the call by the Iraqi foreign minister for President Obama and the US government to launch air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis) rebels is beyond our comprehension.
An air strike will not just eliminate extremists – whom we do not support – but will effectively sign the death warrant of many Iraqi citizens, innocent families trapped and terrified by this crisis. This request to President Obama is madness: it reveals a government that no longer sees clearly and no longer cares about the people it has been appointed to care for.
The people of Iraq, of all and any faith and denomination, like all people in all countries of the world, look to their government to provide them with the peace and security they need and deserve. The current Iraqi government is dramatically failing in meeting that objective.
In our view, there must be no meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs: not by us or by the US, the UK or by any other government. This is Iraq’s problem and they must sort it out themselves. Any government that meddles in Iraq’s affairs runs the risk of escalating the situation, creating greater mistrust between the people of Iraq – both Sunni and Shia.
Instead, we urge all the people of Iraq, whatever their religious denominations, to unite to overcome the current threats and challenges facing the country.
As the UN envoy to Baghdad, Nickolay Mladenov, has said, the current situation is “life-threatening for Iraq, but it poses a serious danger to the region”. This is our region; we are their neighbours.
So what can we do? We have to look at the cause behind this civil unrest. This situation did not happen overnight, but has been developing over years, under the sectarian and exclusionary policies of Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which has angered large swathes of Iraq’s very mixed population.
We can and do urge the present Iraqi leadership to cease forthwith these aggressive policies, which have clearly fuelled the current violent chaos. This unashamedly sectarian agenda – which has included violent and fatal action against Sunni protest groups in the past – has alienated Iraq’s Sunni population, many of whom have “disappeared” under this regime.
Our view, and that of many international observers, is that the way forward is for a new national government to be formed which represents all the people of Iraq – Sunni as well as Shia.
We have been alarmed by suggestions made by Prime Minister Maliki, and by some Western commentators, that in some ways we in Saudi Arabia support Isis. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wishes to see the defeat and destruction of all al‑Qaeda networks – and of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham operating in Iraq. Saudi Arabia does not provide either moral or financial support to Isis or any terrorist networks. Any suggestion to the contrary is a malicious falsehood.
We do not and we will not support violence or extremism in any form, anywhere by anyone. At all times we seek and strive for a peaceful co-existence between all people, both within our country and within our region, and in the wider world community.
Whether they gather under the banner of al-Qaeda or Isis, extremists – jihadis – have become the scourge of the 21st century. Their influence and power over people is fuelled by disappointment and disaffection of the sort created by the Iraqi leadership’s exclusionary policies.Only last month, the security forces in Saudi Arabia foiled a plot to assassinate Saudi officials and religious figures by a group linked to Isis.
We are asked what can be done. At the moment we wait, we watch and we pray.
Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al Saud is Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Court of St James’s.