Putting sectarianism aside, a number of Sunni states, notably Saudi Arabia, perceive the Syria conflict – and by extension Iraq – as part of a strategic competition with Iran. Riyadh fears Tehran is bent on regional hegemony and sees Tehran’s gain of an ally in Iraq after 2003 as a huge shift in the regional balance. Undermining Iran’s ally, and ideally reversing Iran’s gains in Iraq, motivate these states to support anti-regime forces in both Syria and Iraq.
Saudi Wahabbia is right to perceive the whole area as an arena for conflict with Iran, because it is exactly that – or, to be more precise, it is the battlefield on which Sunni and Shia Muslims have waged war for supremacy for generations.
Al Qaeda has made a resurgence in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere because Saudi Arabia wishes for them to make a resurgence. They are Saudi tools through and through. Saudis created al Qaeda, armed, trained, protected, directed, and used it from the very beginning. The attack on the US in 9/11 was as much a Saudi effort as anything else. Without Saudi help and manpower, that attack would not have occurred.
GWB was willing to overlook these facts, for reasons we may never be clear on – the most obvious would be a combination of personal and financial connections between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family – but for whatever reason, Saudi Arabia was never forced to rein in al Qaeda, and we are seeing that now play out in Iraq.
OTOH, for some reason Bush never saw fit to destroy the Iranian regime, either. I think he may have thought he was playing some sort of geopolitical strategy game, in which he didn’t wish to weaken either side in the Sunni-Shia conflict too greatly, for fear of destabilizing the entire Middle East.
Which brings us to where we are now: Iran’s goal is to subvert Iraq entirely to its will in its face-off with the Sunni world helmed by Saudi Arabia. Saudi aims, therefore, are to use whatever assets it has to hand – its corrupt relationship with the US Ruling Class, its own terror gangs like al Qaeda – to stop Iran’s aims and advance its own. It knows it can’t turn Iraq into a Sunni nation, but it can reduce it to a barren wasteland that offers no advantage to Iran in their mutual struggles. And so it will seek to do exactly that.
Until we understand the real context of the situation on the ground in Iraq, we will continue to be shocked and surprised that all our efforts there have come to naught. But you know what they say about good intentions: Therein lies the pavement on the road to hell.