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Saudi Arabia

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I was in my room in the Baghdad Hotel on al-Sadoun street last Sunday evening, writing about the chances for stability in Iraq taking hold, when the walls and floor began to shake. They jerked sideways and up and down several times as if my room was the cabin of boat in a rough sea.... Read More
About eight or nine years ago, I had an Afghan friend who previously worked for a large US aid agency funding projects in the Afghan provinces. He had been hired to monitor their progress once work had got underway, but he did not hold the job very long for reasons that he explained to me.... Read More
Qatar is unexpectedly under siege from its neighbours. Led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, supported by Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, the five Arab states have cut diplomatic relations with Qatar, severed land, air and sea travel and are expelling Qatari citizens who have 48 hours to depart. The Saudis and their allies... Read More
In the wake of the massacre in Manchester, people rightly warn against blaming the entire Muslim community in Britain and the world. Certainly one of the aims of those who carry out such atrocities is to provoke the communal punishment of all Muslims, thereby alienating a portion of them who will then become open to... Read More
It was crude stuff. President Trump called on 55 Muslim leaders assembled in Riyadh to drive out terrorism from their countries. He identified Iran as a despotic state and came near to calling for regime change, though Iran held a presidential election generally regarded as fair only two days previously. He denounced Hezbollah and lined... Read More
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President Trump arrives in Saudi Arabia tomorrow, mere hours after US bombers attacked pro-Assad militiamen whom the US military say were threatening a base in southern Syria where US and British Special Forces are training rebel fighters. It would be naïve to imagine that the timing of the US attack, the first intentionally made against... Read More
Many people view Donald Trump as the most dangerous man on the planet, but next week he flies to Saudi Arabia for a three-day visit during which he will meet a man who surely runs him a close second as a source of instability. This is deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, 31 – the... Read More
The Trump administration is making its first radical policy change in the Middle East by escalating American involvement in the civil war in Yemen. Wrecked by years of conflict, the unfortunate country will supposedly be the place where the US will start to confront and roll back Iranian influence in the region as a whole.... Read More
In the south west corner of the Arabian Peninsula, Britain is complicit in one of the worst and least noticed crimes against humanity in the 21st century. Thanks to Saudi air strikes starting two years ago, a localised civil war in Yemen was transformed into a devastating conflict which has brought 12 million people to... Read More
As recently as two years ago, Saudi Arabia’s half century-long effort to establish itself as the main power among Arab and Islamic states looked as if it was succeeding. A US State Department paper sent by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in 2014 and published by Wikileaks spoke of the Saudis and Qataris as... Read More
The British Government’s fawning on the absolute monarchs of the Gulf, whose authority is enforced by beheadings, lashings and the torture chamber, is at once contemptible and pathetic. It is a measure of Britain’s decline as a great power that it is only in tiny, toxic, sectarian Bahrain, where Sunni rulers suppress the Shia majority,... Read More
It is fortunate for Saudi Arabia and Qatar that the furore over thesexual antics of Donald Trump is preventing much attention being given to the latest batch of leaked emails to and from Hillary Clinton. Most fascinating of these is what reads like a US State Department memo, dated 17 August 2014, on the appropriate... Read More
Why does the British Government devote so much time and effort to cultivating the rulers of Bahrain, a tiny state notorious for imprisoning and torturing its critics? It is doing so when a Bahraini court is about to sentence the country’s leading human rights advocate, Nabeel Rajab, who has been held in isolation in a... Read More
Hundreds of foreign hospital workers in Saudi Arabia, unpaid for seven months, were on strike this week and were blocking a highway in Eastern Province in defiance of the ban on strikes and demonstrations in the Kingdom. The employees’ anger was deepened by the belief that the very same employer who has been holding back... Read More
In 1996 the CIA set up a special unit called Alec Station with the aim of targeting Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network. It was headed by Michael Scheuer who found the Saudis less than cooperative. “When we set up the unit in 1996 we asked the Saudis for some basic material on bin... Read More
Trying to end its dependence on oil - and it's not going to work
Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of the ailing King Salman and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, has launched a highly ambitious plan under which he says his country will speedily “end its addiction to oil.” In terms of its revolutionary ambition, lack of realism and potential for disruption, the plan has parallels with... Read More
Foreign leaders visiting King Salman of Saudi Arabia have noticed that there is a large flower display positioned just in front of where the 80-year-old monarch sits. On closer investigation, the visitors realised that the purpose of the flowers is to conceal a computer which acts as a teleprompter, enabling the King to appear capable... Read More
Commentators have missed the significance of President Barack Obama’s acerbic criticism of Saudi Arabia and Sunni states long allied to the US for fomenting sectarian hatred and seeking to lure the US into fighting regional wars on their behalf. In a series of lengthy interviews with Jeffrey Goldberg published in The Atlantic magazine, Mr Obama... Read More
The suggestion by Saudi Arabia that it send ground troops to Syria might mean the limited deployment of Saudi special forces alongside their US counterpart or a more ambitious intervention, probably in combination with the Turkish army. The suggestion by Saudi Arabia that it send ground troops to Syria might mean the limited deployment of... Read More
At the end of last year the BND, the German intelligence agency, published a remarkable one-and-a-half-page memo saying that Saudi Arabia had adopted “an impulsive policy of intervention”. It portrayed Saudi defence minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the powerful 29-year-old favourite son of the ageing King Salman, who is suffering from... Read More
Saudi Arabia will be pleased that the furore over its execution of the Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr is taking the form of a heightened confrontation with Iran and the Shia world as a whole. Insults and threats are exchanged and diplomatic missions closed. Sunni mosques are blown up in Shia-dominated areas of Iraq. The Saudi... Read More
Air strikes and blockade threaten humanitarian disaster for millions
Dozens of Saudi soldiers and Yemeni fighters have been killed in clashes on the border between the countries as five weeks ofSaudi air attacks fail to bring the war to an end. Air strikes and heavy artillery fire in the southern port of Aden have left much of the city in ruins and the attempted... Read More
The main outcome of the Saudi air campaign will be terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants
Yemen is short of many things, but weapons is not one of them. Yemenis own between 40 and 60 million guns, according to a report by UN experts published earlier this year. This should be enough for Yemen’s 26 million people, although the experts note that demand for grenades that used to cost $5, handguns... Read More
...Despite having no decisive impact on the opposing Houthi militias
Yemenis are wondering if the 28-day Saudi bombing campaign is really over or whether the war has simply entered a new phase. Air strikes were still taking place in Aden, Taiz and other Yemeni cities hours after they were supposed to have ceased. And nobody in Yemen supposes that the war the Saudis escalated when... Read More
As the US and Iran reach accord, Saudi Arabia endangers the status quo in the Middle East
A succession of crucially important military and diplomatic events are convulsing the political landscape of the Middle East. The most significant development is the understanding between the US and five other world powers with Iran on limiting Iran’s nuclear programme in return for an easing of sanctions. But the muting of hostility between the US... Read More
Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis
Foreign states that go to war in Yemen usually come to regret it. The Saudi-led military intervention so far involves only air strikes, but a ground assault may follow. The code name for the action is Operation Decisive Storm, which is probably an indication of what Saudi Arabia and its allies would like to happen... Read More
In many respects the situation in Saudi Arabia is getting worse rather than better, as if the government feels it must compete with the IS
A Specialised Criminal Court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a prominent Shia clergyman, Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, to death on vague charges of “breaking allegiance to the ruler” and “encouraging, leading and participating in demonstrations.” It is a sentence that is creating rage among Saudi Arabia’s two-million-strong Shia minority that has long claimed to be... Read More
They blame the clergy. The social network's free discussion contrasts with Riyadh's official line on the rise of radicals
What is the connection between Saudi Arabia and the rise of the Islamic State (Isis) militants? Did the Saudi state and the Gulf monarchies foster the growth of Isis and other jihadi movements in Syria only to find they had created a Frankenstein monster that today threatens the political status quo? Is the House of... Read More
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In an exclusive interview, the Senator who led inquiry into attack says Obama’s plan to confront Sunni jihadis repeats past mistakes
The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) has been aided by the continuing failure of the US Government to investigate the role of Saudi Arabia in the 9/11 attacks and its support of jihadi movements such as al-Qaeda in the years since, says former Senator Bob Graham, the co-chairman of... Read More
The Underrated Saudi Connection
[This essay is excerpted from the first chapter of Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, with special thanks to his publisher, OR Books. The first section is a new introduction written for TomDispatch.] There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are... Read More
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A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade.
How far is Saudi Arabia complicit in the Isis takeover of much of northern Iraq, and is it stoking an escalating Sunni-Shia conflict across the Islamic world? Some time before 9/11, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, once the powerful Saudi ambassador in Washington and head of Saudi intelligence until a few months ago, had a revealing... Read More
Isis is securing its control of the territories it has conquered in Iraq and Syria and has declared them an Islamic State
Saudi Arabia has sent 30,000 soldiers to its 500-mile border with Iraq after claims that Iraqi soldiers had abandoned their positions along the frontier, though this is denied by Baghdad. The Saudi-backed al-Arabiya channel said it had obtained video footage in which an Iraqi officer said 2,500 troops had been ordered to pull back from... Read More
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The former prime minister's intervention on radical Islam was aimed at all the wrong targets
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the core group of al-Qa'ida, may well chortle in disbelief if he reads a translation of Tony Blair's latest speech on the Middle East delivered last week. If Blair's thoughts are used as a guide to action, then the main beneficiaries will be al-Qa'ida-type jihadist movements. Overall, his speech is... Read More
foreign backers look to reverse months of military defeats at the hands of government soldiers
In the wake of a series of battlefield defeats for the Syrian rebels over the past few months, there are signs that the opposition’s foreign backers are trying to reverse the tide and salvage what is left of the waning insurgency. The removal of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the architect of... Read More
It has helped to restore authoritarian rule in the Middle East, but the costs are becoming clear
President Obama flew to Saudi Arabia to patch up relations with King Abdullah at the end of last week in his first visit in five years. The alliance had been strained by Saudi anger over US negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme and Obama’s refusal to go to war in Syria to overthrow Bashar... Read More
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The role of Saudi Arabia as the jihadists’ greatest ally – will the kingdom be forced to change tack in the face of American impatience and anarchy in Syria
It is a chilling five-minute film made by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), showing its fighters stopping three large trucks on what looks like the main highway linking Syria and Iraq. A burly bearded gunmen takes the ID cards of the drivers who stand nervously in front of him. “You are... Read More
The Latest Round
Saudi Arabia intends to close the local office of the Qatari-owned al Jazeera satellite television station in the latest episode in the escalating conflict in which the Saudis, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are in confrontation with Qatar, say local media. At the heart of the dispute is Qatar’s backing for the Muslim Brotherhood, which... Read More
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Everyone knows where al-Qa'ida gets its money, but while the violence is sectarian, the West does nothing
Donors in Saudi Arabia have notoriously played a pivotal role in creating and maintaining Sunni jihadist groups over the past 30 years. But, for all the supposed determination of the United States and its allies since 9/11 to fight "the war on terror", they have showed astonishing restraint when it comes to pressuring Saudi Arabia... Read More
Iron Fist Tactic Suspended (For Now)
The Saudi security forces are pulling back in troubled parts of the oil-rich country's Eastern Province to avoid further confrontation with Shia protesters, say human rights activists, but they warn that any small incident might provoke fresh clashes. Saudi police and soldiers had previously been besieging the Shia town of al-Awamiyah which was the scene... Read More
Saudi Police Open Fire on Civilians as Protests Gain Momentum
Pro-democracy protests which swept the Arab world earlier in the year have erupted in eastern Saudi Arabia over the past three days, with police opening fire with live rounds and many people injured, opposition activists say. Saudi Arabia last night confirmed there had been fighting in the region and that 11 security personnel and three... Read More
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Patrick Cockburn
About Patrick Cockburn

Patrick Cockburn is the Middle East correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent. He was awarded the 2005 Martha Gellhorn prize for war reporting. His book on his years covering the war in Iraq, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (Verso) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction.


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