Saudi intel official to ABC News: We'll kick Al Qaeda's ass in Anbar

His actual words were “clean up.” And by “clean up,” he might very well have meant “equip, fund, and supply”:

A Saudi intelligence official told ABC News that if his government decided, as King Abdullah has threatened, to help the Sunni community defend itself against Shia militias in Iraq, they would start by “cleaning up” the volatile Anbar province of its al Qaeda networks.

“We will clean up Anbar village by village because we don’t want them to have a rear base in Iraq to attack Saudi Arabia,” says the source, who adds that Saudi intelligence has already laid out extensive networks in Anbar province, where a Sunni insurgency has gained a stronghold.

If the Saudis end up in Iraq, it won’t be because they’re worried about AQ. They’ll be there to counter Iran. In which case, why waste perfectly good Sunni jihadis? They’re better off making a deal with them to provide them with materiel in return for their agreeing not to target Saudi personnel and limit their attacks to Shiite targets. There are signs that the Saudis are leaning towards confrontation, too: I haven’t written about it, but the resignation of Prince Turki as ambassador to the U.S. apparently has to do in part with his dovish posture towards Iran. Prince Bandar, who used to be the ambassador and retains considerable influence (especially with Bush), has allegedly made clear that his wing of the royal family is okay with the U.S. hitting Iran. Turki resented being undercut and prefers a more cautious approach.

And what are the Shiites up to? The usual, according to Iraqpundit:

There’s been an attempt on the life of Iraq’s Shiite vice president, Adel Abdul Mahdi, according to Reuters. No one was hurt in the attack, since U.S. forces helped chase the gunmen away from Abdul Mahdi’s convoy. But while there’s violence in the streets of Baghdad everyday, there may be more to this attack than the brief news dispatches suggest.

Abdul Mahdi is no random politician. He’s a member of SCIRI, the Shiite party that rivals Maliki’s, and was almost named prime minister earlier this year. He might yet get his chance — he’s been named as Maliki’s likely successor if the inchoate coalition between SCIRI and the major Sunni and Kurdish parties comes together. Their goal is to create a majority in parliament that excludes al-Sadr’s party; that way the prime minister, whoever he is, can attack the Mahdi army without fear of the government being toppled by al-Sadr’s MPs withdrawing their support. If it does come together, it remains to be seen whether they’ll give Maliki a chance to move on al-Sadr before replacing him or whether they’ll pick a new PM right out of the gate. There’s also a question of whether Ayatollah Sistani, who advocates Shiite unity, would bless the prospect of a Shiite prime minister going after the Mahdi army in earnest.

Which brings us to the question of who put out the hit on Abdul Mahdi. Al-Sadr, who sees military forces gathering against him? Maliki, who wants to keep his office? Or some Sunni group with sectarian motives? And a second question: if the coalition does coalesce, what will al-Sadr do? He’s not going to sit around and wait for the Marines to come knocking. Probably his best bet is to try to precipitate full-on civil war with the Sunnis. He stands a better chance against them than he does against us, and if he can make the war hot enough, we’ll be forced out for fear of getting caught in the middle or taking sides against him and the Shiite majority. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if he attempts a spectacular attack along the lines of the Samarra shrine bombing sometime soon.

Meanwhile, Bush is considering sending 20,000 or 35,000 more troops. There’s just one problem, via the LAT:

The emerging plan is facing opposition from Iraqi officials adamant that more U.S. forces aren’t the answer. U.S. military commanders in Baghdad have drawn up plans for the country that don’t require any new personnel…

Nouri al-Maliki has flatly told Gen. George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, that he doesn’t want more U.S. personnel deployed to the country…

Senior U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq, meanwhile, say they aren’t sure additional forces are needed in Iraq.

The NYT fleshes out that last point a bit:

General Casey, the top commander here, is said to be cautious, arguing that an increase could lower violence in Baghdad, at least temporarily, but that it could also encourage Iraq’s feuding political leaders to delay tough decisions needed to stem the slide toward anarchy.

Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the second-highest-ranking American officer in Iraq, has been the allied forces’ operational commander for the past year, and he has resisted a troop increase, the officials say, believing an American-financed job creation program could do as much to weaken the insurgents and political militias.

General Chiarelli’s successor, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, who took over at a ceremony in Baghdad on Thursday, is bullish, seeing a troop increase as a way for American and Iraqi troops to gain the upper hand in Baghdad and Anbar Province, a desert region virtually overrun by Sunni insurgents, the officials say.

Another cautionary voice has been that of Gen. John P. Abizaid, leader of the Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. General Abizaid has said increasing troop strength, especially in Baghdad, could have an impact on the mounting cycle of revenge in which Sunni suicide bombings of Shiite civilian targets have set off murderous attacks on Sunni civilians by Shiite death squads. But General Abizaid, like General Casey, has said the impact would be temporary if Iraqi politicians failed to end sectarian feuding.

So a lot’s riding on that coalition.

On a Friday night, we end with dark humor. An oldie but goodie.

Update: How did this slip under the radar? The Iraqi government is holding a national reconciliation conference tomorrow.