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Saudi Arabia Reportedly Deploys Soldiers to Border with Iraq

  • Phillip Walter Wellman

Iraqi families fleeing violence in the northern city of Tal Afar, arrive at the Kurdish checkpoint in Aski kalak, 40 km West of Arbil, in the autonomous Kurdistan region, July 1, 2014.

Iraqi families fleeing violence in the northern city of Tal Afar, arrive at the Kurdish checkpoint in Aski kalak, 40 km West of Arbil, in the autonomous Kurdistan region, July 1, 2014.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly amassed 30,000 troops along its border with Iraq, amid growing fears that Sunni militants are planning to advance on the kingdom.

According to the Saudi-owned al-Arabiya news channel, the soldiers were deployed after Iraqi government forces abandoned their posts in the border region.

The channel said it acquired video showing about 2,500 soldiers retreating, but a top Iraqi military spokesman described the claim as “false news.”

Four days ago, the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant declared its own caliphate in territory it seized in Syria and Iraq, renaming it the Islamic State.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq share a border stretching 800 kilometers, or 497 miles, nearly half of which adjoins land controlled by the militant group.

ISIL is growing threat

Saudi leaders are rightly concerned, according to Theodore Karasik, research director for the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), a strategy and security organization based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

"At this time, the threat from ISIL seems to be full – that ISIL is gearing up to make further penetration into the kingdom," Karasik said.

ISIL militants are already believed to have a presence in Saudi Arabia.

Sixty-two suspects were arrested in the country in May, accused of being part of an ISIL cell. Graffiti supporting the Sunni militants has been seen on buildings in Riyadh and pamphlets have begun circulating aimed at attracting local supporters.

Recently, the group announced it would like to extend its caliphate from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.

Ideological appeal

Karasik called this “a very serious moment” not only for Saudi Arabia, but also for Kuwait and Jordan, because ISIL fighters seem “to have the ability to fight and capture territory and carve out areas that they can absorb because they are able to gain the support of Sunni tribesman who are on the ground."

The deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute of Qatar, Michael Stevens, said ISIL’s ideology could appeal to many people in Saudi Arabia and neighboring Sunni countries, especially those that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council.

"There is a direct threat to any GCC state in this particular issue,” Stevens said, “because ISIL is not just a bunch of guys running around with weapons, it is an idea. It catches on."

According to Karasik, a large number of the troops deployed by Saudi Arabia to the Iraqi border are thought to be soldiers from the Pakistani and Egyptian armies.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke Wednesday with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah by telephone about Iraq and recent militant advances.

Last week, the Saudi king referred to the Islamic State in saying his nation would continue to “face and tackle this scourge.”

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