The plot thickens...

Two must-reads if you're following the al-Turki / Obaid story, from the WSJ and the Washington Times.

From the first:

Despite the continuing high oil prices, for once U.S. difficulties with Saudi Arabia do not appear to be dominated by immediate energy concerns. The main challenge appears to be to steer Riyadh between a near holy confrontation with Shia Iran and an equally destabilizing alliance with radical Sunnis. As an experienced and well-liked envoy, Prince Turki will be hard to replace.

One early danger is that the kingdom is close to acquiring nuclear weapons rather than continuing to rely on the longstanding security guarantees and understanding of successive administrations in Washington. Last month a Saudi official privately warned the kingdom would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. Pakistan (for bombs) and perhaps North Korea (for rockets) are potential allies. There are already credible reports of facilities in the desert that the Saudis claim are oil-related, although there are no pipelines in sight. Also, North Korean personnel have been spotted at military facilities.
And the second:

Of the 77,000 active members of the insurgency, the "jihadis" number about 17,000, of which some 5,000 are from North Africa, Sudan, Yemen, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The remaining 60,000 are members of the former military or Saddam's paramilitary Fedayeen forces. The officer corps of the insurgency has "command and control facilities in Syria as well as bases in strategic locations, where Sunnis constitute the majority of the urban population."
Given the centuries-old tribal, familial and religious ties between Iraq's Sunnis and Saudi Arabia, the assessment concludes that "Saudi Arabia has a special responsibility to ensure the continued welfare and security of Sunnis in Iraq."
Its recommendations to the Saudi government included a comprehensive strategy that would include overt and covert components to deal with the worst-case scenario of full-blown civil war.
It also calls on the government to communicate the assessment to the United States; make it clear to Iran that if its covert activities did not stop the Saudi leadership would counter them; and extend an invitation to the highest Iraqi Shi'ite leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, to reassure the Shi'ite community.
But it's really worth reading both fully -- there are some fun anecdotes in there too.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.