Elizabeth Dickinson, Gulf Correspondent for The National, has just written a Saban Center analysis paper that argues that private financing by Gulf donors to Syria's extremist rebels may ignite sectarian conflict in those countries. The Brookings summary explains:
Although the fighting is thousands of miles away, explains Dickinson, Kuwaiti involvement in the Syrian conflict is risky for Kuwait itself—a small country of just over three million, a third of which are Shi’a. Many of Kuwait’s highest-profile Sunni and tribal opposition figures have been involved in fundraising; supporting the mujahedeen (military fighters) has become an important political gesture. Shi’ite figures allegedly involved are also high profile businessmen and politicians. But both Sunni and Shi’ite campaigns increasingly employ sectarian rhetoric, and residents of all sects report feeling increased communal tensions.
Western countries, including the United States, argues Dickinson, could do a great deal to assist Kuwait in controlling private donations to extremist elements and/or figures linked to the Syrian regime. Perhaps the simplest way is messaging. The U.S. State Department said Washington is and will “stress the need to—for Kuwait to have a robust anti-money laundering/counter terrorism financing regime.” A high-level conversation could have the effect of accelerating work to implement new financial regulations. Kuwait’s new Financial Investigation's Unit could also benefit from further international expertise and intelligence sharing.
Read it here. The full report is available here.
This paper raises a larger issue: to what extent is the current conflict between the Gulf States (especially Saudi Arabia) and Iran a reflection of a larger struggle between Shia and Sunni? Is Saudi Arabia's anger over our willingness to engage with Iran rooted in its fear that the U.S. will not remain loyal to the Sunni team? How much of Iran's covert activities in the region a reflection of its desire to act as the protector of Shia minorities (or in the case of Bahrain, majorities)? Is it in the long term interests of the United States to appear to be taking sides in this sectarian conflict?