The campaign against an impoverished minority Shiite community worsens sectarian divides and undercuts Saudi claims of responsible regional leadership.
WASHINGTON ― Saudi Arabia is engaged in an unprecedented domestic military operation that has worsened sectarian tensions long ignored by Washington, raising concerns about Western support for the U.S.-friendly government the Trump administration has pulled especially close and the ripple effect the crackdown may have on an already fractured Middle East.
Since May 10, two weeks before President Donald Trump’s high-profile visit to the kingdom, Saudi security forces seeking to demolish a 400-year-old neighborhood have been battling a small group of armed resisters ― leading to civilian deaths, including that of a three-year-old boy on Wednesday.
Ongoing fighting in the largely closed-off town means residents now feel unable to even leave their homes for fear of being shot, said Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.
claims that Canadian-made military equipment has been used in the Saudi campaign. But the U.S. position on the violence remains unclear: a State Department spokesperson referred HuffPost to the Saudi Arabian government for comment, without issuing a statement of concern as the agency often does regarding violence abroad (and as Canada has done).
A spokesperson with the Defense Department did the same, providing no clarity on whether U.S.-trained Saudi units or U.S.-provided weapons or supplies were used in the crackdown.
The Saudi campaign has particular importance for the broader Muslim world because it pits a government dominated by the Sunni branch of Islam against citizens who follow the Shiite school.
For their part, the Saudis have tried to win approval from Washington and the region by presenting themselves as moderate ― opposed to Iran and its regional proxies but not all Shiites.
Last month, Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman hosted a top Iraqi Shiite leader, Moqtada Al-Sadr, a move one U.S. official described to HuffPost this week as hugely significant for keeping Shiite majority Iraq in the American orbit.
that U.S.-aligned governments mistreating their Shiites invite the risk of Iranian meddling, making it seem that homegrown grievances among their communities cannot be addressed under the ruling government.
“It is an open sore that ISIS can exploit,” Frederic Wehrey, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told HuffPost.