Saudi Arabia sends 30,000 troops to Iraq border - FT.com July 3, 2014 11:11 am Saudi Arabia sends 30,000 troops to Iraq border By Erika Solomon in Erbil and Simeon Kerr in Dubai Saudi Arabia has deployed 30,000 troops to its border with Iraq, the pan-Arab television station Al Arabiya said on Thursday, after tribal leaders within the war-torn country reported Iraqi government forces abandoning their posts on the frontier. Iraqi government officials have not yet commented on any withdrawal, nor is it clear how many soldiers were told to leave. But Abdul Razzaq al-Shammari, a tribal sheikh from the restive Anbar province, said troops had been ordered to leave the Saudi border near Anbar, one of the areas where Sunni insurgents and militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) have been seizing territory. “The militias and security forces of the Iraqi government from the western border [with Saudi Arabia] have withdrawn because of the advances of the revolutionaries,” said Abu Abd al-Naami, a spokesman for the General Tribal Revolutionaries, a group he says speaks for tribes across Iraq. “They began withdrawing on Monday and finished withdrawing on Tuesday, when we gave them a four-hour deadline to retreat safely,” he added. Since early June, Isis forces have led an insurgency that has swept across swaths of Iraq, taking the country’s second-largest city Mosul, near the Syrian border, and territories bordering Iran in the east and Jordan to the west. Mr Naami estimated that there were 3,000-4,000 Iraqi forces along the Saudi-Iraqi border. Al Arabiya said Saudi troops had been sent to the border because of the Iraqi withdrawal. On Wednesday evening, the channel released a video of a small group of Iraqi troops on a desert road east of the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, with a truck from the 4th brigade army border patrol loaded with supplies. “We weren’t exposed to any attack or anything. We were ordered to withdraw, we don’t know what the reason is,” said one man in army uniform. “There were people from our division who refused to withdraw.” The tribes of northern Saudi Arabia are linked to the Sunni areas through western Iraq and eastern Syria, where Isis forces and tribal insurgents made rapid gains thanks to the local population’s resentment of the Shia-led government in Baghdad. The insurgency has reached towns just an hour outside the capital, where its advance appears to have stalled. Iraq’s Sunni minority, which feels it has been marginalised and oppressed by the Shia-dominated government, hopes the threat of an attack could force Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to make concessions. Omar al-Mansouri, a local journalist from Anbar, argued that Isis and the tribal advances were not the reason for the retreat. “Maliki ordered this to increase pressure on Saudi Arabia and bring the threat of Isis over-running its borders as well,” he said. Mr Maliki and his main backer Iran have accused Riyadh of funding jihadist groups such as Isis. The kingdom has denied the accusation, saying Isis is a threat to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Analysts say private donations from Saudi and other Gulf states have helped build Isis into a powerful military force. Saudi officials have sought to reassure their citizens that the oil-rich kingdom will protect its borders against any potential threat from the “terrorist” group. The Saudi border is protected by surveillance towers and a security fence, but analysts have questioned its ability to halt determined incursions. Having taken control of much of the Iraq-Syria border, militants have declared a caliphate in the cross-border territory they control, raising a potential threat to Saudi Arabia’s religious credentials among its conservative Sunni population. Isis has not openly threatened Saudi Arabia, a leading power among the region’s Sunnis. But Riyadh faced a militant insurgency in 2005 and 2006 and has banned its citizens from joining jihadi forces in Syria. As Iraq’s army engages in battles with insurgents across the country, the stalemate between the two sides has been complicated by clashes between Shia militias and government security forces in Karbala. Saudi ruler King Abdullah held talks with US president Barack Obama on Wednesday, after which both sides agreed on the need for a new Iraqi government to represent all of the country’s communities. Iraqi politicians this week failed to make any progress towards choosing a new government. Mr Maliki, who won most votes in April’s election, says he is determined to try to form a new government, despite opposition internally and externally from those who say a new face is needed to unite the country.