Drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities have reduced global oil production by 5% and sent prices shooting up by at least 19%. The attack was initially claimed by the Houthis in Yemen. But a report in the Middle East Eye by its editor-in-chief David Hearst quotes an anonymous Iraqi intelligence official claiming that the attacks were launched from the pro-Iran group Hashd al-Shaabi’s bases in southern Iraq in retaliation to Israeli drone strikes on the group’s Syrian bases in August. But the office of the Prime Minister of Iraq denied that its territory was used to carry out the Saudi Aramco attacks while vowing to act decisively against anyone using Iraqi territory to attack other countries.
Amid all this, US President Donald Trump has been quick to revert to his reality show rhetoric and has claimed that the US is ‘locked and loaded’, despite reports coming in for months that the Saudis and Israelis are both trying to push the US to engage in a hot war with Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran before even the Saudis had openly pointed fingers. “Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while [President Hassan] Rouhani and [Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad] Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” Pompeo tweeted. But he offered no evidence of the origin of the attacks, and even satellite images produced later only suggest that an attack from the north or northwest — meaning Iran or Iraq — is more likely from the Houthis in Yemen in the southwest.
The erratic US regime is risking significant escalation through its rhetoric, but; to his credit, such escalation is also something that Trump has avoided in his international dealing to date. In the short term, the strikes probably end all hopes of a meeting between Trump and Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, which would make many in Riyadh and Tel Aviv happy.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2019.