Al-Monitor| Bruce Riedel: Saudi Arabia is losing influence throughout the Fertile Crescent to its rival Iran. While Riyadh’s position versus Tehran has been in decline for some time, the trend is accelerating. Saudi setbacks are partly due to factors outside its control, but also due to inherent weaknesses in Saudi capacities.
The kingdom has had a friendly regime in Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait a quarter century ago and threatened to keep marching into Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province. But for most of the 1980s, Saudi Arabia and Iraq were close partners in containing the revolutionary wave from Iran. King Fahd provided Saddam with tens of billions of dollars in aid during the Iran-Iraq War; without Saudi financial help, Iraq would have collapsed. Fahd also rallied the other Gulf states to help Saddam and promoted Saddam as a power to work with in Washington.
In 2003, King Abdullah thought the American decision to oust Saddam without having another Sunni strongman to succeed him was rash and dangerous. The Saudis were certain Iran would fill the vacuum. Riyadh was especially suspicious of the role Ahmad Chalabi played in the planning process of President George W. Bush’s administration for postwar Iraq. The Saudis believed Chalabi was an Iranian agent.
Riyadh has been very reluctant to deal with any of the Shia governments that have been in power since the invasion. The Saudis delayed opening an embassy for years and appointing an ambassador. Last month, they reassigned their ambassador out of Baghdad after reports of assassination plots. No replacement has been chosen and the post is likely to remain empty.