by Peyman Pejman
(IPS) FALLUJA --
officials in Iraq are getting uneasy about increased activity by the Saudi government and by radical Wahhabi groups in Iraq. Some of this is welcomed, the rest is not.
Saudi government activity seems limited to charitable work and to aiding the Iraqi people, but U.S. officials are concerned about activities of radical, Sunni Muslim Wahhabi groups.
The Wahhabis are a puritan movement associated with the Saudi dynasty. Officials say some of these may have the direct or indirect backing of factions within the Saudi government.
There is no tangible evidence linking any Saudi group to the Sunni Muslim groups who have long allied themselves with the former regime of Saddam Hussein, and are believed to be behind almost daily attacks on U.S. forces in areas north of Baghdad.
But U.S. officials are following the issue closely. "We realize there is some Saudi activity and involvement, and we've basically told them 'cut it out,'" a senior U.S. official in Baghdad speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS.
Any spread of the Wahhabi ideology in a country where the United States has been spending four billion dollars a month is likely to anger many U.S. lawmakers, the U.S. official says. Some of them still blame the Saudi royal family for not keeping a tighter leash on the movement in the days and months leading to the September 11 attacks.
The Saudi government was the first to be allowed to open a free hospital for the Iraqis. The hospital is officially run by the country's Red Crescent Society. It has a staff of ten doctors and 20 assistants, with 500 military personnel protecting the facility.
The centre has treated some 66,000 Iraqi patients, operated on many wounded by explosions, and even sent some who needed complex surgery to Saudi Arabia, an administrative official at the centre says.
The Saudi government has been sending massive amounts of food into Iraq through the medical facility, in arrangement with the Iraqi Red Crescent Society. The food arrives in boxes clearly marked, 'A Gift from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the Brotherly People of Iraq'.
On the surface, there is nothing sinister about the donations. But some Iraqis say that such donations are usually considered an entrŽe into something deeper.
"We have told the Americans to watch out for this type of behavior," a senior Kurdish official who asked not to be named told IPS. "The Saudis are known for doing this, and they tried this in Kurdistan. They would come in as a charity. They help you. They give you food and money. Then they say, 'if you memorize this much of the Koran, I'll pay you this much.'
"Next month, they'll double the money if you memorize twice as much as the first month. Then they'll offer to give you more money if you grow a beard. Before you know it, you are a fundamentalist," the Kurdish official said.
But while no connection has been found between the more traditional Wahhabi groups and Iraqi Sunni Muslim groups bent on expelling the coalition forces from Iraq, U.S. officials are keeping a close eye on worrying signs. Circumstantial indications are not evidence, but they have been enough to make the U.S. forces watchful.
Last month, U.S. forces raided a house in the northern city Mosul, a traditional hotbed of Wahhabi activity in Iraq, and arrested 15 people, all of them Wahhabis. Large quantities of arms and ammunition, including AK-47 guns, hand grenades, and rocket-propelled grenades were seized.
In Falluja, where many of the attacks against U.S. forces have occurred, the hardline leader of a local mosque, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Jenabi, denied to IPS that there is "any Wahhabi influence in Iraq." Four feet away outside the room, men in their early twenties were clearly dressed in traditional Wahhabi dress.
July 11, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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