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Saudi government sends 30,000 soldiers to Iraq border, reports say

Troops were sent to the border of Saudi Arabia and Iraq after the desertion of Iraqi troops, but Iraq denies forces have pulled out
Saudi King Abdullah speaks before a meeting with the US Secretary of State (AFP)

Saudi Arabia has sent 30,000 soldiers to the 900-km border it shares with Iraq, Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television said on Thursday. The move allegedly comes after the porous area was left unprotected because 2,500 Iraqi soldiers deserted their posts.

But the BBC has reported that Brig Gen Saad Maan, the Interior ministry spokesman, has said that things were normal at the border and denied reports that Iraqi troops had left their military posts on their border with Saudi Arabia.

"It is a pre-emptive precaution because Saudi Arabia feels entrapped now. For long it has considered the threat to be coming from Iran and the this situation seems to have shifted," professor of social anthropology at King's College London Madawi al-Rasheed told MEE. 

"Saudis feel pressure now because they know these ISIS jihadis very well. We have seen the Saudi element in that [ISIS] is quite prominent - suicide bombings in Beirut last week were carried out by Saudis. There is potential for them [jihadis] to be creating more chaos on Saudi border," added Rasheed. 

On Wednesday, the White house said that in a phone call between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and US President Barack Obama, the two leaders talked about Iraq and extremist insurgent groups on the rise.

President Obama called on the king to prevail on Iraqi factions for a political settlement.

Obama also thanked the king for the $500 mn in humanitarian aid that a foreign ministry spokesman had pledged on Tuesday to Iraq. 

Saudi Arabia’s ruler King Abdullah has “ordered $500 mn in humanitarian aid to the brotherly people of Iraq affected by the painful events, including the displaced, regardless of their religion, sect or ethnicity,” the Saudi spokesperson said in a statement. 

The emphasis on the non-sectarian nature of the aid likely stems from the antagonistic relationship between Abdullah and Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which has been further tested by the uprising against Maliki's rule. 

Saudi Arabia accuses Maliki's government of being responsible for the current insurgency in Iraq, which is being led by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, a Sunni militant group with previous links to al-Qaeda.

The King has accused Maliki of being responsible for the current unrest in the country as a result of his pro-Shiite, anti-Sunni policies, which he alleges have led to the rise of the Islamic State (IS). Maliki, in turn, has blasted the Saudi authorities for supporting the militants and funding terrorism. 

Maliki, for his part, has previously accused Riyadh of "sponsoring terrorism" in the violence-wracked country.

Iraq entered a new phase of confrontation with militant groups earlier this month when IS fighters advanced into the northern Nineveh and Saladin provinces, forcing the Iraqi army to beat a hasty retreat.

Thousands of Iraqi residents have fled their homes in the two predominantly-Sunni provinces since the violence intensified earlier this month.

The crisis – which remains ongoing – has drawn international attention, with neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan all on high alert fearing the IS's possible infiltration of their borders.

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