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Nouri al-Maliki

As the United States prepares to withdraw its troops from Iraq to meet a year-end deadline, Iranian-backed Shiite insurgents have stepped up their attacks on U.S. troops while Saudi Arabia has begun to provide assistance to Sunni militias there, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The result is a looming sectarian fight.

Saudi Arabia has begun to take direct action through stepped-up support for Sunni forces to counter a growing Iranian influence over Iraq, which is run by the Iranian-friendly Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

As a result, the prospect of an open sectarian clash between the Iranian-backed Shiites in Iraq and the Iraqi Sunnis is increasing, especially with the departure of U.S. troops.

The Saudi regime increasingly has been concerned about Iran’s surging impact on Arab countries which are predominantly Sunni, regional analysts say.

They say that the Saudis now are more concerned about the threat from Iran than any Israeli threat.

The Saudis have seen Iran’s strategic power spread not only in Lebanon but also through its alliance with Syria and increasingly in Iraq, which once was in the control of Saddam Hussein.

As Hussein was Sunni, the Saudis were opposed to the 2003 U.S. action in Iraq which toppled his regime. The Saudi kingdom had warned Washington that by toppling Hussein, it would pave the way for Iran to fill that void with the Shiites in the country who had been subjected to years of mistreatment.

Similarly, the Saudis were, and remain, very upset with the Obama administration for not backing the Sunni regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in January.

When the Sunni regime of the al-Khalifa family was threatened in Bahrain by the Shiite majority, the Saudis rushed troops and equipment to bolster those in power.

Iran immediately began providing active support to the Shiite majority there, which prompted a number of regional observers to suggest that the conflict in Bahrain to quell the violent demonstrations there by the Shiite majority was a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis did the same thing recently by sending in troops into neighboring Yemen following increased attacks on the Sunni regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh from the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

“This might initially seem good news to many in the West, but it augurs poorly for stability in the Gulf as it implies protracted and well-funded irregular warfare in Iraq and with Iran,” said one analyst.

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